Upgraded Mayall Telescope Could Finally Explain Dark Matter With Largest-Ever 3D Map of Universe
The four-meter Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope was cutting edge when it was first installed inside a 14-story, 500-ton dome on top of an Arizona peak 45 years ago. Today, not so much. That's why it has been temporarily taken out of commission as it begins to be transformed into the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI.
When completed around April 2019, DESI will create the largest 3-D map of our universe. The team behind the project hopes that it can answer some longstanding questions, like why the universe is expanding at ever-accelerating rates, and what role dark energy plays in the expansion. More than 465 researchers from approximately 71 institutions are involved in the DESI project, which is headed by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"One of the primary ways that we learn about the unseen universe is by its subtle effects on the clustering of galaxies," said DESI Collaboration Co-Spokesperson Daniel Eisenstein of Harvard University. "The new maps from DESI will provide an exquisite new level of sensitivity in our study of cosmology."
This shouldn't discount the tremendous astronomical discoveries the Mayall Telescope facilitated, which included measurements on galaxy rotation that led to the discovery of dark energy, and later dark matter, in the first place. DESI will simply allow the machine to go much deeper in testing theories about gravity and the early formation of the universe, and researchers hope it will capture mass measurements for abundant, but mysterious, subatomic particles called neutrinos.
It will accomplish this using a cluster of 5,000 moving robots that are each choreographed to direct a fiber-optic cable at specific objects in deep space, including quasars that are hiding active black holes. By carrying the light from these deep space objects to ten spectrographs, the fiber optic cables will allow DESI to look into the origins of our universe approximately 11 billion years ago.
DESI's fiber optic component was developed by astrophysicists Kevin Reil and Aaron Roodman from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), who explained a bit more about how it all works.
"The instrument will feature small imaging cameras on the edge of the fiber array," said Roodman. "They'll let us guide the telescope and optimally focus and align the DESI corrector—an active optics capability that will help us get the best performance for the exciting science to be done with this innovative instrument."