Washington: UK physicists and astronomers working alongside colleagues from around the world, from an observatory in Chile, have now started their quest for finding the answers as to why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.
Scientists on the survey team will systematically map one-eighth of the sky (5000 square degrees) in unprecedented detail.
The start of the survey is the culmination of ten years of planning, building, and testing by scientists from 25 institutions in six countries, including the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Sussex and University College London in the UK.
Professor Grahame Blair, Executive Director of Programs at the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said that understanding the origin and nature of dark energy is one of the most exciting and timely areas of study in astronomy today.
The main tool of the survey is the Dark Energy Camera, a 570-megapixel digital camera built at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, and mounted on the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Andes Mountains in Chile.
The camera includes five precisely shaped lenses, the largest nearly a yard across, designed and fabricated at University College London (UCL) and funded by STFC.
The Dark Energy Camera is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind. The digital camera itself is more than 70 times as powerful as the camera in your smart phone and the lenses being used allow it to see light from more than 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light-years away. Over the next 5 years, DES will use the camera to obtain colour images of 300 million galaxies and 100,000 galaxy clusters and will discover 4,000 new supernovae, many of which were formed when the universe was half its current size.
The survey`s observations will not directly see dark energy, but by studying the expansion rate of the universe and how quickly structures grow scientists can infer the properties of dark energy to greater precision than ever before.