Giant Camera Will Look Back 7 Billion Years

Will try to unravel mystery of dark energy

By Greg Wilson
|  Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011  |  Updated 9:22 AM CDT
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Giant Camera Will Look Back 7 Billion Years

Reidar Hahn/Fermilab

In a Fermilab clean room, Ken Schultz and Kevin Kuk check the alignment of the prototype camera's front window.

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A massive, 570-pixel camera that can peer back seven billion years ago is on its way to Chile where it will be used to study to study a mysterious force in the universe known as dark energy.

The camera, which has multiple lenses including one three feet in diameter, is being shipped from Illinois to the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory where it will survey faint galaxies in the distant universe

Dark energy, only discovered in 1998, is present throughout the universe. Scientists know little about it except that it seems to be speeding the expansion of the universe.

"There's enough data that people know what we don't understand, but there's not enough data to explain it yet," Brenna Flaugher, a physicist at Fermilab near Chicago, which assembled the Dark Energy Camera, told NPR. "There's too much room for the theorists to come up with crazy ideas right now. And so there's lots of crazy ideas. And we need data."

Dark energy was discovered when researchers studied light coming to Earth from exploding stars. The light's path showed the stars were farther away than they should have been, which implied that something was acting against gravity. Scientists have since confirmed that as galaxies move apart, they speed up, increasing their distance at a faster and faster pace. Hence, the universe is expanding at an ever-more rapid clip.

According to the Department of Energy, the camera will be able to photograph galaxies from the time the universe was only a few billion years old, tracing the history of the expanding universe roughly three-quarters of the way back to the time of the Big Bang.

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