Dark Energy Camera Sees First Light.
On September 12, 2012, the Dark Energy Camera opened its eyes for the very first time and beheld the southern skies.An exciting moment for sure in astronomy. After eight years of planning and construction by technicians, scientists and engineers from three continents, the 570-megapixel camera has finally had first light – light that may answer one of the most poignant questions in astronomy. Why is the expansion of the Universe accelerating? The question isn’t new, but the camera is. Headed by researchers from the Dark Energy Survey collaboration, this exciting new technology will be used to create the largest single galaxy survey to date. It is all part of an experiment which will cover the sky fourfold, studying supernovae, galaxy clusters, large-scale galaxy clumping and weak gravitational lensing.
“The Dark Energy Survey will help us understand why the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, rather than slowing due to gravity,” said Brenna Flaugher, project manager and scientist at Fermilab. “It is extremely satisfying to see the efforts of all the people involved in this project finally come together.”
Professor Will Percival, University of Portsmouth, who co-coordinates the galaxy clustering of DES commented: “This will be the largest galaxy survey of its kind, and the galaxy shapes and positions will tell us a great deal about the nature of the physical process that we call Dark Energy, but do not currently understand.”
Professor Richard McMahon, University of Cambridge, added: “The construction of a 3-dimensional map of the galaxies just based on their positions and optical colors is extremely challenging and will require sophisticated computational and statistical techniques. The addition of galaxy near infrared colors from another UK led sky mapping survey, the VISTA Hemisphere Survey, will greatly improve the accuracy of the map”.
However, the survey couldn’t happen without the Dark Energy Camera itself. It consists of an array of 62 charged-coupled devices (CCD) and has an unsurpassed sensitivity to very red light. When connected to the Blanco telescope’s 13 foot diameter mirror, it will become the most powerful survey instrument of its type – able to observe and capture in a single image an amazing 100,000 galaxies at distances up to 8 billion light years. The Dark Energy Camera will be studying everything from asteroids to the furthest reaches of space. Not bad for an instrument pack that’s roughly the size of your refrigerator!
“We’re very excited to bring the Dark Energy Camera online and make it available for the astronomical community through NOAO’s open-access telescope allocation,” said Chris Smith, director of the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory. “With it, we provide astronomers from all over the world a powerful new tool to explore the outstanding questions of our time, perhaps the most pressing of which is the nature of dark energy.”
After the camera is fully tested, the Dark Energy Survey should begin at the end of 2012. These first light images have excellent quality and “nearly uniform spatial resolution” – a testament to the outstanding atmospheric conditions available at the Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory. It is expected that over the five-year period the camera operates that it should catalog one-eighth of the sky, or 5,000 square degrees, to discover and measure 300 million galaxies, 100,000 galaxy clusters and 4,000 supernovae.
Professor Ofer Lahav, from UCL, who heads the DES:UK Consortium and the DES science committee commented: “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.”
Original Story Source: National Optical Astronomy Observatory News Release.