Dark Energy Camera

StarDate: March 14, 2013

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If the pictures you snap with your cell phone just aren’t sharp enough for you, you may want to invest in a new camera like one that’s about to start hunting for dark energy. The camera’s images are 570 megapixels, providing amazingly sharp images of the night sky. There are a couple of drawbacks, though - the camera’s the size of a phone booth, and it cost millions of dollars.

The camera is the centerpiece of the Dark Energy Survey, which will attach the camera to a four-meter telescope in Chile.

The project will use several techniques to study dark energy - a mysterious force that appears to make the universe expand faster as it ages. Astronomers are trying to find out whether it’s a form of energy created by space itself, a flaw in our understanding of gravity, or something else entirely.

The camera will snap pictures of hundreds of millions of galaxies and thousands of exploding stars. Those observations will reveal how fast the universe was expanding at different times in its history. They should also reveal a pattern in the way galaxies are distributed in the sky - a pattern established in part by the influence of dark energy.

The camera took its first pictures in September and became operational last month. But the Dark Energy Survey won’t begin until fall, when the part of the sky it’ll study is in good view.

Until then, the camera is available for use on other projects - projects that will benefit from giant pictures of the sky.

 

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.

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