Art of Dark Matter

No one can photograph dark energy itself. But a new camera is looking for the effects of dark energy by gathering data on more than 300 million galaxies whose faint light has been traveling toward Earth for a very long time.

The so called Dark Energy Camera is part of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) and has been fitted to the Victor M. Blanco Telescope located at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.  It has been in use since September 2012, with the survey starting in August 2013. This combined optical/near-infrared survey will be used by cosmologists to probe the dynamics of the expansion of the universe and the growth of large-scale structures such as galaxies in their early history.

570 megapixel Dark Energy camera, shown here being tested at Fermilab, will help astronomers uncover the mysteries of dark matter Credit: Image courtesy of Fermilab.
The Blanco telescope in Chile as seen from the air. Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF
The Blanco telescope in Chile as seen from the air. Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF

Our universe is not only expanding, but that expansion is speeding up. The faster an object moves away from the Earth, the more its light shifts toward a red color. Measurements of distant galaxies show all of them are red-shifted and moving away from us and from each other. The Dark Energy camera is able to image large swaths of the night sky while accounting for these large red shifts.

The Dark Energy Camera features 62 charged-coupled devices, which record a total of 570 megapixels per snapshot. Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaborative
The Dark Energy Camera features 62 charged-coupled devices, which record a total of 570 megapixels per snapshot. Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaborative

The Dark Energy Survey is a five-year effort to map that survey area in unprecedented detail. Scientists will use the data collected to probe the phenomenon of dark energy, the mysterious force that makes up about three-quarters of the universe. The Dark Energy Survey is a collaboration of more than 300 scientists from 25 institutions in six countries. Funding for DES projects are provided by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, the National Science Foundation, and other funding agencies.

The Dark Energy Camera is in its third year of capturing eye-popping images of the cosmos.

Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth. Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaboration
Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365, which lies about 60 million light years from Earth. Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaboration
Image of NGC 1398 galaxy was taken with the Dark Energy Camera. This galary lives roughly 65 million light years from Earth. It’s slightly larger than our own Milky Way galaxy. Credit: Dark Energy Survey.
Image of NGC 1398 galaxy was taken with the Dark Energy Camera. This galaxy lives roughly 65 million light years from Earth. It’s slightly larger than our own Milky Way galaxy. Credit: Dark Energy Survey.
Comet 2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) on December 27, 2014 happened to be in the field of view of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera © Fermilab
On December 27, 2014 Comet 2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) happened to be in the field of view of the Dark Energy Camera © Fermilab

Ting Li, a Texas A&M astronomy graduate student, developed her own instrument designed to help scientists understand more about the cosmos. Her breakthrough device called the Atmospheric Transmission Monitoring Camera or aTimCam measures subtle changes in the light that is constantly moving through out the atmosphere. The aTimCam has four charge-coupled device cameras equipped with four photographic camera lenses that serve as telescopes individually capture unique images of the wavelengths of light transmitted by a particular star. Li then can track changes in the atmosphere by observing the specific features of each image. The resulting data will be used by scientists as part of the Dark Energy Survey.

Ting Li,testing the Atmospheric Transmission Monitoring Camera installed at Chile’s Cerro Toloto Inter-American Observatory. Credit: © Texas A&M University
Ting Li, testing the Atmospheric Transmission Monitoring Camera installed at Chile’s Cerro Toloto Inter-American Observatory. Credit: © Texas A&M University

Tracking dark matter will show us where our universe has been and hopefully where it will be in the future

 

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