We know that the universe is expanding, and that it’s doing so faster and faster. But we don’t know why the rate of expansion is increasing. Astronomers have dubbed the unknown cause “dark energy,” which is a pretty cool name for something we know absolutely nothing about. To shine some light on the mystery, scientists devised a the most powerful digital camera in the world: the Dark Energy Camera, capable of seeing 8 billion light years into space. And after eight years of development, last week the camera captured its first images.
The Dark Energy Camera uses an array of 62 charge-coupled devices—electronic instruments used to capture digital pictures—to form images of the objects in its line of sight, which include 300 million galaxies. Scientists plan to survey these galaxies over the next five years, gathering lots of data that will help us better understand just what dark energy is. But first, they must test this powerful instrument—by taking lots of pretty pictures, such as the above image of star cluster 47 Tucanae, 16,700 light years from Earth.
Image courtesy of the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration