University scientists colloborate with researchers to uncover nature of dark energy

Scientists from the University are joining forces with researchers from across the world to complete a Dark Energy Survey, a collaborative project intended to uncover the nature of dark energy. The survey is one of the largest ever attempted and will take five years.

Above weather interference in the Andes mountains about 50 miles east of La Serena, Chile, rests the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. The observatory houses a 570-megapixel camera, which was built at Fermilab and is used to photograph the sky in extreme detail.

Jon Thaler, University physics professor, said he led a team of particle physicists to help create the Dark Energy Camera, which will be used to take pictures of one-eighth of the sky.

The pictures taken over the next five years will be processed by the University’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Tricia Barker, public affairs coordinator for NCSA, said it will take the data and make it available for the survey’s scientists. NCSA, which houses the supercomputer Blue Waters, is one of the few organizations that has the ability to run quadrillions of calculations every second, which makes possible processing the trillions of bytes of data that this project will accumulate.

The camera will be able to see light up to 100,000 galaxies and eight billion light years away.

Siv Schwink, communications coordinator for the physics deparment, said the purpose of the project is to “solve the biggest mystery of our time — what is dark energy?”

Dark Energy is believed to be the force that is causing the acceleration of universe expansion, while it should be decelerating due to the gravitational effects of ordinary matter.

“It’s like when you throw a rock in the air, you expect it to slow as it travels further up,” Thaler said. “This would be equivalent to you tossing the rock up, then it just shoots up out of nowhere.”

The Dark Energy Survey scientists are mapping the amount of matter in the universe to study what is happening more accurately. The team is looking at expansion over time to see the history of the behavior of the universe.

Ariell can be reached at [email protected]