The world’s most powerful digital camera has produced its first images.
Set inside the Blanco telescope high in the Atacama desert in Chile, the Dark Energy Camera is the culmination of eight years of planning and construction by scientists, engineers and technicians on three continents.
The 570-megapixel camera is made out of 62 linked scanners, giving it unprecedented sensitivity, especially to red light and infrared light. The movement of distant objects means they appear towards the red end of the spectrum – a so-called “redshift”. Riding on the back of the conventional Blanco telescope’s 4-metre-wide mirror, the Dark Energy Camera can see light from over 100,000 galaxies, up to eight billion light-years away.
“The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera begins a significant new era in our exploration of the cosmic frontier,” said James Siegrist, from the US Department of Energy, one of the teams working on the camera. “The results of this survey will bring us closer to understanding the mystery of dark energy, and what it means for the universe.”
It’s hoped the new camera will provide an insight into the mystery of so-called dark energy, the force astronomers believe causes the universe’s expansion to keep accelerating. It will also be the first time scientists can study galaxy clusters, supernovae, and the large-scale clumping of galaxies using just one device.
Its first image was of a spiral galaxy in the Fornax cluster, about 60 million light years from Earth. Another composite image shows of the centre of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae, which lies about 17,000 light-years from Earth.
“The Dark Energy Survey will help us understand why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing due to gravity,” said Brenna Flaugher, one of the scientists working on the project.
The task of photographing in earnest will begin in December, after the camera is fully tested. Over the next five years it will photograph no fewer than 300 million galaxies, as it undertakes what’s being called the largest ever survey of space.