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Fermi scientists begin survey of night sky to learn about fundamental forces of the universe

The Dark Energy Camermounted Blanco telescope Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory Chile. Credit: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab.

The Dark Energy Camera, mounted on the Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Credit: Reidar Hahn/Fermilab.

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Updated: October 5, 2013 6:29AM

Fermilab’s newest instrument, the Dark Energy Camera, offers a unique glimpse at the cosmos.

In each snapshot it takes, more than 1,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away are revealed.

The Dark Energy Survey, a project that seeks to understand some of the most fundamental questions of the universe by pointing one of the world’s most powerful cameras skyward, has officially launched.

The 570-megapixel camera, made of five precisely shaped lenses, the largest up to a yard across, was built at Fermilab and mounted above a telescope at the National Science Foundation’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Andes Mountains in Chile.

Physicists and astronomers from around the globe have begun using this machine to systematically capture images and map out huge swathes of the night sky.

The survey’s goal is to find out why the expansion of the universe is speeding up, instead of slowing down due to gravity, and to probe the mystery of dark energy, the force believed to be causing the acceleration.

“The Dark Energy Survey will explore some of the most important questions about our existence,” said James Siegrist, associate director for High Energy Physics at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. “In five years’ time, we will be far closer to the answers, and far richer in our knowledge of the universe.”

The project also includes an enticing tidbit for science fans: an online feature called DECam Interactive, which simulates the spectacular night-sky images that the Dark Energy Camera sees, and provides scientific facts and information about the images in an easy-to-understand way.

More than 10 years of planning, building and testing by scientists from 25 institutions in six countries went into the Dark Energy Camera’s development.

Over the next five years, the survey will obtain color images of 300 million galaxies and 100,000 galaxy clusters and will seek new supernovae. The survey will eventually map out roughly one-eighth of the sky in unprecedented detail.

The survey’s observations will not be able to see dark energy directly. However, the survey will give scientists the most precise measurements to date of the properties of dark energy by studying the expansion of the universe and the growth of large-scale structures over time.

Scientists will count galaxy clusters, measure supernovae, study the bend of light, and use sound waves to create a large-scale map of the universe’s expansion, all to probe dark energy and better understand its nature.

More information about the Dark Energy Survey, along with links to DECam Interactive, can be found at


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