A mission to create a map of the universe in never-before-seen-detail using the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has begun.
DESI is a collaboration involving hundreds of scientists around the world and in the UK it is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
DESI will capture and study light from tens of millions of galaxies and other distant objects with the aim of uncovering the mysteries of dark energy. Dark energy is thought to explain why the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate.
The instrument is based at Kitt Peak National Observatory in the US and it contains 5,000 fibre-optic eyes, each of which can image an entire galaxy in just 20 minutes.
In a four-month trial run, DESI collected four million spectra from galaxies – more than the combined output of all previous spectroscopic surveys. Once its mission is complete, DESI will have created a 3D map of the universe to a distance of up to 11 billion lightyears.
Professor Grahame Blair, STFC Executive Director for Programmes, said:
The UK institutions in the DESI UK collaboration are:
- St Andrews
STFC provided £2.4 million funding to facilitate DESI instrumentation development at Durham University and at UCL, and to enable about 30 UK academic staff and students to participate in DESI.
Professor Ofer Lahav of UCL, chair of the DESI UK consortium of seven universities, said:
DESI is mounted on a four-metre telescope topped with an optical corrector.
The optical corrector is led by UCL. It allows the 5,000 ‘eyes’ of fibre-optic cable to be arranged over eight square degrees in such a way that they can move independently to capture light from individual galaxies. These cables, working with the six huge lenses, give the telescope a vast viewing window.
The captured light is then split into bands of colour by spectrographs to map the movements of the galaxies relative to Earth, revealing the expansion history of the universe.
Michael Levi, the Director of DESI based at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the project’s lead institution, said:
He explained that instead of two-dimensional images of galaxies, quasars, and other distant objects, the instrument collects light, or spectra, from the cosmos.
Source: UK Research and Innovation.
Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). They bring together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. For more details go to: https://www.ukri.org/