570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera hopes to unlock the secrets of the universe
The Dark Energy Camera is currently the world’s most powerful camera, and it's appropriately mounted onto the Blanco telescope in Chile so that it can take photos of the universe of cameras that it dominates. As reported by The Verge, this camera is a 570-megapixel imaging device that uses an array of 74 CCD sensors. It took eight years to build.
The Dark Energy Camera's main goal is to survey more than 100,000 galaxy clusters, some of which are 8 billion light years away. The camera took its first images just last week. Pictured above is the 47 Tucanae star cluster, which is "only" about 17,000 light years away from Earth. After the jump, you can also see an image of the spiraling galaxy NGC 1365, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth.
Over the next five years, scientists taking part in the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration expect to capture one-eighth of the sky using the camera. The photos won't simply go into the best galaxy photo album of all time or be uploaded to Instagram; there's a larger purpose at work here.
Eventually, surveying the sky will help the Dark Energy team understand why the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, as the expansion is believed to be caused by a mysterious force known as "dark energy." To this end, scientists from 23 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and Germany have created the Dark Energy Survey in order to find four crucial pieces of evidence to support the dark energy theory.
First, the scientists will look for supernovas, because all exploding stars have nearly the same luminosity, which makes them "standard candles." With this in mind, the scientists can use exploding stars as light beacons to determine where and how the galaxy is expanding by calculating the increasing wavelength (or redshift) of the light they put out.
Another constant that scientists can draw from are the baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO), which are thought to have turned superheated particles from the Big Bang into matter. These BAO waves continue to travel through space today, leaving clumps of matter behind that scientists can use to study the history of universe expansion.
The Dark Energy Camera can also look at the changes that dark energy introduces to the creation and density of galaxy clusters in the sky. Lastly, the team will look into how light is bent by massive objects—an effect called gravitational lensing—to determine where the dark energy potentially lies.