Technicians remove the tracker assembly at the top of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, part of the preparation work for a dark energy experiment that will begin next year. The tracker, which allows the telescope to follow targets across the sky and carries optics that sharpen its view, will be replaced with a new unit that will give the telescope a wider view of the sky. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX) will use this capability to study more than one million galaxies at distances of up to 11 billion light-years. The observations will help astronomers understand the nature of dark energy, which is making the universe expand faster as it ages. [David Doss/McDonald Observatory]
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With some of its mirrors locked away in a cupboard and a package of instruments gone for good, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is looking a bit bare these days. Over the coming months, though, it’ll be fleshed out as it’s prepared for a major new scientific project: a search for dark energy.
The search is known as HETDEX — the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. Scientists will study more than a million galaxies that are billions of light-years away. That will reveal how the universe was expanding in the distant past. That, in turn, will help reveal the nature of dark energy, which is causing the universe to expand faster as it ages.
HETDEX requires an overhaul of the giant Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory. New optics will give the telescope a much wider field of view, allowing it to see hundreds of galaxies at a time. And a new suite of instruments will analyze the light from those galaxies.
Astronomers took their last glimpses through the old telescope in August. The telescope’s mirrors were then removed and stored for safekeeping. A package of instruments at the top of the telescope was removed to make way for a new one.
Over the coming months, the telescope will be strengthened, and new instruments will be installed and tested. The upgraded Hobby-Eberly Telescope should get its first look at the stars by early next summer. After final testing and alignment, HETDEX will get started a few months later.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013
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