The Dark Energy Camera (DEC) has captured an initial batch of images as part of an ongoing quest to afford scientists with a better understanding of dark energy. The images were taken by the 570-megapixel behemoth from its location within the Chilean Andes on September 12 while undergoing a series of tests. Scientists hope it may soon help answer one of the biggest mysteries in physics: why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.

Reportedly the world’s most powerful digital camera, the DEC is the product of eight years of collaboration between scientists, engineers, and technicians based on three continents, as part of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) project.

The DEC is able to capture light from over 100,000 galaxies, up to 8 billion light years away, in each shot. An array of 62 charged-coupled devices boasts unprecedented sensitivity to red light, which allows the DEC to more accurately measure redshifted light emitted from very distant objects. The DEC also sports a 13-foot (roughly four-meter) light-gathering mirror.

The DEC camera was constructed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and has been mounted upon the Victor M. Blanco telescope, located at the National Science Foundation’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile.

The Blanco telescope which the DEC is mounted upon, located in the Chilean Andes (Photo: NOAO/AURA/NSF)

“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, associate director of science for high energy physics with the U.S. 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.”

DES scientists will use the new camera to carry out the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken, and the resulting data will be harnessed to carry out four probes of dark energy, studying galaxy clusters, supernovae, the large-scale clumping of galaxies, and weak gravitational lensing. This represents the first time scientists will be able to conduct all four probes in a single experiment.

The DEC is still undergoing tests and is expected to begin operation in December. Over the following five years, the survey will create detailed color images of one-eighth of the sky, or 5,000 square degrees, in order to discover and measure 300 million galaxies, 100,000 galaxy clusters and 4,000 supernovae.

The DES is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, in addition to funding agencies in the United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, and participating DES institutions.

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