Dark Energy Survey quests to explain the unexplainable

2013-02-21T00:00:00Z 2013-02-26T11:36:04Z Dark Energy Survey quests to explain the unexplainableSrushti Shah Medill Reports nwitimes.com
February 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

One of the biggest mysteries for human beings remains finding the components of the universe. And when it comes to Dark Energy, things get even more baffling.

"Normally the expansion of the universe should be slowing down, but dark energy is repulsive, thus helping the universe to expand faster," said Steve Kuhlman, Dark Energy Survey Group Leader at the Argonne National Laboratory.

"So one step further into solving the mystery is the Dark Energy Survey," Kuhlman said.

The Dark Energy Survey placed one of the world's largest digital cameras onthe Victor Blanco Telescope placed high on a mountaintop in Chile. The a large optical instrument played a vital role in the discovery of Dark Energy in the '90s. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Batavia, built the camera.

The survey is a combined Department of Energy and National Science Foundation project, which involves national labs such as Fermilab, Argonne and universities here and elsewhere around the world. In exchange for building the new camera, DOE and NSF will get 525 nights of observation over the period of the five-year survey.

"There are millions of supernova explosions (an explosion of a massive star) taking place all over the universe, and with this telescope, we might be able to track some of them and get to know more about dark energy," Kuhlman said.

Since the installment of camera in September 2012, the group has already confirmed about five explosions and is on its way to discover many more.

"We are in a strange position in terms of energy and matter," said Stephen Strieffer, deputy associate laboratory director at the Argonne. "Understanding the things that go on in the universe is a profound challenge and the Dark Energy Survey is a small step towards it."

The new camera installed in Chile cost about $40 million and is the largest digital camera in the world. It is very sensitive as compared to the previous camera in the telescope. The researchers are positive about getting information that would help them learn more about dark energy and its role in the expansion and creation of universe.

"We can capture light of supernovas that might have exploded million of years ago, thus travel farther back in time and know more about the things that made the universe to what it is today," Kuhlman said.

The distance to the supernova events are so great that the light emitted from these explosions is just reaching earth after all of those millions of years. By understanding the past, the researchers are hoping to solve mysteries about the dark energy and the role it plays in the expansion of the universe.

"We don't know where this will lead us to, but we want to delve deeper into the understanding of dark energy and the universe in general," Strieffer said.

While dark energy is accelerating the expansion of the universe, scientists theorize that dark matter is the "missing mass" which causes the galaxies to spin faster. Scientists also believe it helps hold the galaxies together with the universe expanding around them.

Until the discovery of dark energy, scientists believed that the expansion of the universe was slowed down because of the gravity, but the discovery of dark energy in 1998 debunked this belief, while creating a new mystery for humans to wander into.

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