Spotlight Live: Dark Energy Camera
ONE OF THE MOST AMBITIOUS astronomical surveys in history will soon begin to answer perhaps the biggest question in cosmology: Why is the universe expanding at an ever accelerating rate? On Sept. 12, a new powerful camera on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile saw First Light. The milestone paves the way for survey operations to begin in December.
The Dark Energy Camera, constructed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois and equipped with 570 megapixels, is expected to image 300 million galaxies, 100,000 galaxy clusters and 4,000 supernovae as far as 8 billion light years away during the five-year Dark Energy Survey. The multinational project will use the data it collects to study four probes of dark energy, the mysterious and unexplained force driving the accelerated expansion of the universe. They include the study of galaxy clusters, supernovae, the large-scale clumping of galaxies and weak gravitational lensing – the phenomenon by which the light from distant galaxies is stretched and magnified by foreground clusters of galaxies. More than 120 scientists from 23 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Germany are involved in the Dark Energy Survey. As part of a special series science writer Bruce Lieberman will ask questions from the public about the survey and the new camera that will drive it in a roundtable interview with Joshua Frieman, director of the survey and a member of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics (KICP) at the University of Chicago, and Brenna Flaugher, project manager at Fermilab for the Dark Energy Camera.
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The Dark Energy Camera is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind, able to see light from over 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away in each snapshot. The camera’s array of 62 charged-coupled devices has an unprecedented sensitivity to very red light, and along with the Blanco telescope’s large light-gathering mirror (which spans 13 feet across), will allow scientists from around the world to pursue investigations ranging from studies of asteroids in our own Solar System to the understanding of the origins and the fate of the universe.
About the Participants
BRENNA FLAUGHER a physicist and astrophysicist at Fermilab, began her career as a graduate student at Rutgers University in experimental high-energy physics, but she is now a full-time experimental cosmologist working on understanding the origin of the accelerating universe. “The Dark Energy Survey will help us understand why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing due to gravity,” Dr. Flaugher has said. “It is extremely satisfying to see the efforts of all the people involved in this project finally come together.”
JOSHUA FRIEMAN is a senior staff member in the Theoretical Astrophysics group at Fermilab and the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics. He is also Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, where he is a member of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. Dr. Frieman's research centers on theoretical and observational cosmology, including studies of the nature of dark energy, the early universe, gravitational lensing, the large-scale structure of the universe, and supernovae as cosmological distance indicators. The author of more than 230 publications, he led the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-II) Supernovae Survey, which discovered more than 500 type Ia supernovae for cosmology studies, and chaired of the SDSS Collaboration Council.
BRUCE LIEBERMAN is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the news business. He worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for many years before becoming an independent writer and editor in 2010. For The Kavli Foundation, Bruce has interviewed researchers about galaxy clusters, dark matter and dark energy, string theory, the emergence of the first stars and galaxies, exoplanets and other subjects. He has also written for Scientific American, Smithsonian Air & Space magazine, and Nature about a variety of science topics.
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