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Asteroid! Earth's largest digital camera scans for killer meteors

Asteroid: Earth's largest digital camera is a 1,400-megapixel marvel peering through a telescope in Hawaii. It is on the lookout for potentially dangerous space rocks.

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Asteroid! Earth-based Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System is scanning the skies in search of deadly meteors.

Newscom/File

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A new telescope in Hawaii being billed as the world's largest digital camera has begun searching the sky for potentially killer asteroids that could endanger our planet Earth.

With a main mirror about 60 inches (1.8 meters) wide, the new telescope on Maui's Haleakala volcano peak is somewhat small when compared to the large 10-meter Keck telescopes atop the Hawaiian peak of Mauna Kea.

But the telescope's 1,400-megapixel camera is a digital giant, with 1.4 billion pixels spread across 40 centimeters to snap photos of the night sky automatically, night after night, to find potentially dangerous asteroids. A typical domestic digital camera may have 5 million pixels on a chip a few millimeters across, telescope officials said.

IN PICTURES: Asteroids

"Although modest in size, this telescope is on the cutting edge of technology," said astronomer Nick Kaiser, who is leading the asteroid hunt, known as the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS). "It can image a patch of sky about 40 times the area of the full moon, much larger than any similar-sized telescope on Earth or in space."

The asteroid hunt actually began on May 13, when the new Pan-STARRS telescope PS1 started its space rock survey. That was when "the world became a slightly safer place," project officials said in a statement this week. [More asteroid photos.]

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