Camera begins search for secret of dark energy

The newly-built Dark Energy Camera in Chile – the most powerful digital camera in the world – has captured its first images, as part of an effort to understand why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

The first pictures of the southern sky were taken by the 570-megapixel camera on September 12.

“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” says James Siegrist, associate director of science for high energy physics with the US Department of Energy.

“The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.”

The Dark Energy Camera is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind, able to see light from over 100,000 galaxies up to eight billion light years away in each image.

Its array of 62 charged-coupled devices has an unprecedented sensitivity to very red light, and along with the Blanco telescope’s light-gathering mirror – 13 feet across – will aid investigation into everything from asteroids in our own solar system to the ultimate fate of the universe itself.

Starting in December, scientists in the Dark Energy Survey collaboration will use the new camera to carry out the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken. They will use that data to carry out four probes of dark energy, studying galaxy clusters, supernovae, the large-scale clumping of galaxies and weak gravitational lensing.

Over five years, the survey will create detailed color images of 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.