While searching for dark energy, a telescope paused to look at the Crab Nebula

DECam was installed on the Blanco 4-meter telescope. Credit: DOE/FNAL/DECam/R. Han/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA

If you think it is difficult to study dark matter, then studying dark energy will be even more difficult. Dark energy is perhaps the most subtle phenomenon in the universe. It drives the evolution of the universe, but its effects are seen only on intergalactic scales. So to study dark energy in detail, you need a great deal of observations of large areas of the sky.

That’s why the Department of Energy worked with astronomers ten years ago to build the Dark Energy Camera (DECam). It is the highest resolution astronomical camera ever, with over 60 CCD images, and captures images at 570MP resolution. Installed in the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, it is more than two degrees wide, four times the apparent width of the Moon.

Between 2013 and 2019, DECam took an average of 400-500 images per night, looking at distant supernovae, measuring the scale at which galaxies clustered together, and studying the faint gravitational lensing between galaxies. dark matter. This data gave us a deeper understanding of dark energy And help astronomers constrain the observations so they can better fit in. theoretical models for observation.

But with DECam reaching its first decade of operation, the team decided to do something a little different. The high-resolution wide-field camera is great for capturing data, but it’s also very good at capturing some amazing photos. So the team pointed it at NGC 6357, also known as the Lobster Nebula. It is about 8000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Scorpius and is an intense star-forming region. You can see the results in the image below, which is pretty amazing.

While searching for dark energy, a telescope paused to look at the Crab Nebula

The Lobster Nebula NGC 6357 as seen by the Dark Energy Camera. Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA

The image spans about 400 light-years and shows bright young stars among dense regions of gas. To capture the details of this image, the DECam team used narrowband filters to capture images of specific colors within the nebula. Then combine and color these images to create a file final image. It’s a great demonstration of what DECam can do.

Of course, with a decade of work under its belt, DECam doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon. She recently took her millionth photo, and with time she may take another million.


Galactic Ballet Photography by NSF’s NOIRLab in Chile


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