The Vera C. Rubin Observatory, formerly known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), is expected to begin its operations in 2025. The observatory, located in Chile, will use a powerful 8.4-meter telescope and a 3.2-gigapixel camera to capture images of the entire southern sky every few nights for at least 10 years. The observatory will generate an unprecedented amount of data, about five petabytes (5,000 terabytes) per year, which will be processed and analyzed by sophisticated algorithms to identify and classify celestial objects.
One of the main goals of the Rubin Observatory is to discover and study the objects in our Solar System, especially the ones that are small, faint, and far away. Scientists estimate that there are tens of millions of asteroids and comets in the Solar System, but only about a million have been found so far. Rubin Observatory will find 10 to 100 times more Solar System objects than were known before, and will measure their properties such as sizes, shapes, compositions, and orbits.
The observatory will revolutionize our understanding of how the Solar System formed and evolved, and will also help us assess the potential threat of near-Earth objects that could collide with our planet.
Near-Earth Objects: A Threat and an Opportunity
Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are asteroids and comets that come close to Earth’s orbit. Some of them are potentially hazardous, meaning that they have a non-zero chance of hitting Earth in the future. Scientists have already found most of the NEOs larger than 1 km in size, which could cause global devastation if they impact Earth. However, they have found less than 30% of the NEOs larger than 140 m in size, which could still cause regional damage. Rubin Observatory will increase that percentage to 60-90%, providing a much better inventory of the NEO population and their trajectories.
The observatory will also offer an opportunity to explore the NEOs as potential sources of resources and destinations for future missions. Some of the NEOs are rich in water, metals, and organic materials, which could be useful for space exploration and colonization. Rubin Observatory will help identify the most accessible and valuable NEOs for future exploration.
Asteroid Belt: A Record of Solar System History
The asteroid belt is a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, where millions of asteroids orbit the Sun. The asteroids vary in size, shape, and composition, and are remnants of the early stages of Solar System formation. Some of them have been altered by collisions, radiation, and other processes, while others have preserved their original characteristics. Rubin Observatory will find and study many more asteroids in the belt, especially the small and faint ones, which are harder to detect with current telescopes.
The observatory will help scientists understand how the asteroids formed, how they interacted with each other and with the planets, and how they reflect the diversity and evolution of the Solar System.
Kuiper Belt: A Window to the Outer Solar System
The Kuiper belt is a disk of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, extending to about 50 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. The Kuiper belt is home to some of the most distant and mysterious objects in the Solar System, such as Pluto, Eris, and Makemake. The objects in the Kuiper belt are believed to be the leftovers of the primordial disk of gas and dust that gave birth to the Solar System. Because of their distance and isolation, they have been less affected by the gravitational and thermal influences of the Sun and the planets, and may retain clues about the origin and nature of the Solar System.
Rubin Observatory will be able to detect and study many more objects in the Kuiper belt than ever before, thanks to its ability to find faint and distant objects. The observatory will help scientists classify the Kuiper belt objects into different groups based on their physical and dynamical properties, and will also search for possible new dwarf planets and interstellar visitors.
A New Frontier of Astronomy
The Rubin Observatory will open a new frontier of astronomy, by providing a comprehensive and detailed view of the Solar System and its inhabitants. The observatory will not only discover millions of new objects, but will also monitor their changes over time, revealing their histories and behaviors. The observatory will also enable new scientific investigations, such as testing the theories of gravity and dark matter, studying the formation and evolution of galaxies and stars, and probing the nature of dark energy and the expansion of the universe.
The observatory will be a treasure trove of data and discoveries for astronomers and the public alike, and will inspire new questions and challenges for the future of Solar System exploration.