In modern astrophysics, there are two huge problems that have been causing scientists grief for years: the issue of dark matter and dark energy. While we know that dark matter is most likely a particle we haven’t identified yet, the mystery of dark energy is far more perplexing because we can see its effects, but have no idea what is causing it. This is a big problem for physicists as it apparently makes up 75% of the universe. Now, on a remote mountaintop in Chile, one of the most powerful digital cameras ever created just took a picture of eight-billion-year-old starlight as it begins its quest to help us understand just what dark energy is. It’s a daunting task, but it may be our best shot yet at unraveling one of the universe’s biggest mysteries.
Just last week, scientists from the international Dark Energy Survey announced that their new equipment, which was the culmination of eight years of labor from a team spanning three continents, was beginning its initial test operations. According to The Telegraph, the equipment in question is a massive, 570 mega-pixel camera, known as the Dark Energy Survey camera, the size of a phone booth. With each snap, the camera can capture images of 100,000 galaxies some eight billion light years away. This is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind ever created, and scientists hope that it will help the Dark Energy Survey study the clumping of galaxy clusters and supernovae in an effort to study the effects of dark energy. University College of London professor Ofer Lahav, who is in charge of the UK’s arm of the project, hopes that this will finally shed some light on dark energy.
The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera brings us a step closer to understanding dark energy, one of the biggest mysteries in the whole of physics. The deep observations with the DES camera will tell us why the universe is speeding up and if a major shift is required in our understanding of the universe.
Over the next five years the DES camera will capture over one-eighth of the sky in detailed color pictures. In this huge swath of sky it will study over 300 million galaxies, 100,000 clusters, and thousands of supernovae. Whether or not all of their hard work pays off remains to be seen, but you can be sure that we’ll get some stunning panoramic views of the deep cosmos that we’ve never gotten before.