A project of the Dark Energy Survey collaboration

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Unsung Hero Cold Cases – The Slipher File

 As the Milky Way sets, light from nearby villages and mining towns turns the stream of clouds overhead into a rippling river of fool’s gold. On this night in October of 2013, during the first season of observations of the Dark Energy Survey, we pumped caffeine into our bodies to stay awake, to keep ready for when the conditions would change. Every field we can observe, every galaxy we can capture will make a contribution to the greater measurement of their vast patterns – patterns distorted (or created) by a dark energy.

One hundred years ago, an American astronomer by the name of Vesto Slipher became the first to measure streams of galaxies in our local neighborhood. Slipher used the 24-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory to measure velocities of spiral nebulae (i.e., galaxies), through a method known as “spectroscopy.” Most of the galaxies that Slipher measured are receding from the Milky Way, rather than moving toward it – the first indication of cosmic expansion.

This result laid the groundwork for the definitive discovery of the expanding universe. Unfortunately, Edwin Hubble of Mount Wilson is most often accredited with this finding. Hubble measured distances via Cepheid Variables to distant nebulae and then correlated them with Slipher’s velocity (redshift) data to create the famous distance-velocity plot for his 1929 paper.

Hubble provided no citation of Slipher’s work.

Slipher is the first to measure Doppler Shifts (velocities) of galaxies, to show that spiral galaxies rotate, and to detect that collections of stars and dust are actually nebulae outside our own Milky Way.

Let us remember Vesto Slipher – among modern cosmology’s most influential unsung heroes.

Det. B. Nord

 


Video

遥远的旅者

TV158-crop

经过一段漫长的旅程,一个躲藏已久的太阳系成员终于再次回到我们“身边”。上一次这个小小的冰雪星球出现在外太阳系的时候,时间还是公元九世纪,查理曼还当着神圣罗马帝国的皇帝,中国正处于大唐盛世。

这个遥远的旅者是暗能量巡天发现的第一批柯伊伯带(Kuiper Belt)成员中的一个,现在已被正式标注为2013 TV158. 它于20131014日首次进入暗能量巡天的视野。随后的十个月内,它在牛顿引力定律为它决定的轨道上缓慢前行,并被暗能量巡天观察了几十次。我们可以在本页左边的动画中看到这颗小天体移动。组成这一动画的两张影像是在20148月摄制,间隔两个小时。

2013 TV158 需要1200年才能绕太阳一周。它也许不过只有几百公里宽,和美国大峡谷(Grand Canyon)的长度差不多。

再过八年,它就会到达它距太阳最近的一点——即使这样,它也不会比海王星离太阳更近,距离海王星也还有几十亿公里。在这个距离上,太阳的亮度不及在地球上的千分之一,大小和一个一角硬币差不多——而且这个硬币还被置于三十米外。2013 TV158上的正午也不过如此。

在此之后,2013 TV158就要开始长达六个世纪的远离太阳之旅。慢慢地,即使世界上最先进的望远镜也会观察不到它。在它于27世纪再次向着太阳踯躅朝圣之前,它要先旅行到距离太阳300亿千米的远日点。

2013 TV158和其他数不清的小星球一样,栖息于太阳系边缘的冰天雪地。这些小天体所在的区域被称作柯伊伯带。柯伊伯带比火星和木星之间的小行星带宽20倍,重许多倍。矮行星冥王星也是柯伊伯带的成员。右下图给出了木星,冥王星和2013 TV158的轨道对比。

科学家们认为这些柯伊伯带天体(Kuiper Belt Object,简称KBO)是太阳系形成时期的遗迹,是未能成功结合成大行星的残渣碎屑。研究ellipses-black这些天体可以帮助我们了解45亿年前太阳系诞生的物理过程。

由于过于遥远和暗淡,柯伊伯带天体的发现极其困难。第一个柯伊伯带天体,冥王星,发现于1930年。足足62年之后,第二个柯伊伯带天体才被发现。时至今日,已知的柯伊伯带天体只有约1500个。相较之下,火星和木星之间的小行星带已有50多万的天体被天文学家们发现。

暗能量巡天致力于远观银河系以外的数百万个星系和超新星以研究宇宙的加速膨胀,但我们可做的不止于此。暗能量巡天在每年的八月到次年的二月之间会对十个天空区域每周进行重复观察。这些观察对于寻找柯伊伯带天体非常有利。柯伊伯带天体运动十分缓慢,大概在几周甚至几个月内,它们都会出现在暗能量巡天的同一视场内。这有利于我们寻找在不同夜晚出现于不同位置的同一天体,并最终串联起几个月的观察结果以确定它们的轨道。

暗能量巡天对于柯伊伯带天体的搜寻只进行了不到百分之一,谁知道下一个进入我们视野的惊喜又会是什么样子的呢?

作者:暗能量侦探 D · 格德斯 (D. Gerdes)

翻译:暗能量侦探 张Y Y. Zhang

翻译编辑:暗能量侦探 李T T. Li


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Revolution

When is the last time you watched the sky revolve around us?

Earth rotates on its axis at 1,000 miles per hour (1600 kilometers per hour). At the same time, it flies around the sun at 67,000 m/h (110,000 km/h). And the Sun, with all its planets and rocks and dust in tow, makes its way around the center of the Galaxy, our Milky Way, at 520,000 m/h (830,000 km/h). And then, the Milky Way itself is hurtling toward the nearby Andromeda galaxy at 250,000 m/h (400,000 km/h).

The fastest space craft (and fastest man-made object in history), Juno, will slingshot around Earth on its way to Jupiter, eventually reaching a speed of 165,000 m/h. The NASA space shuttle reaches speeds of 17,000 m/h (27,000 km/h).

The average human walking speed is 3.1 m/h (5.0 km/h).

Though we sit in this coordinated maelstrom, we can still understand all of space and time on the largest scales. But, to do so, we must consider it statistically, on the whole, at great breadth and as a collection – not merely the sum of disconnected parts or separate events.

All across the universe, there are supernovae – exploding stars that blink in a cataclysmic, cosmically infinitesimal moment. Quasars are small regions that surround the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies that flash on and off on the timescales of hours to months. Each galaxy in the universe is creating some dimple in space-time due to its mass. Imagine a vast expanse of sand dunes: all light passing by these galaxies must traverse through it, resulting in distorted images by the time they get to us.

These are just some of the events that go on constantly around us, without regard for our existence, as we spin round and round, imagining a static quilt of stars turning about us. And they are just some of the celestial targets that will tell us more about how fast the universe is expanding.

To better understand these events, and the acceleration of spacetime, we wait for the targets to be at a place in the sky when we can see them – when the sun is down and this part of Earth is pointed in their direction. Our targets come from a large swath of sky, one-eighth of the celestial sphere. And across this expanse, we will obtain a uniform sample of targets. The uniformity – homogeneity or constancy – is crucial: we must observe all galaxies brighter than a certain amount, and within a certain distance to have a clean, uniform sample. Otherwise, variations in that information could be misconstrued, or at best they could muddy our measurement of dark energy.

Building the collection starts with amassing a set of deep images of the sky: these are but snapshots of long-gone eons, and they are the first step in our process of discovery. From the images, we distill vast catalogs of celestial bodies – galaxies, stars, motes and seas of hot gas and dust – an accounting of what the universe has so far created. This catalog can be further distilled when studied as a whole. The final concentrate is a small set of numbers that summarizes the fate of our universe: a measurement of the strength of dark energy.

Our spaceship Earth is a pebble in the swirling cosmic sea around us. We watch it as if we are separate, sometimes forgetting we come from it. As we look up from within our snowglobe on a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes, it becomes easier to remember that we are a conduit between the finite and the infinite.

Good night, and keep looking up.
Det. B. Nord


Video

DECam Tracks Near-Earth Asteroid

In the early evening of February 3rd, 2014, the DES team received an urgent request for optical imaging of a Near Earth Object (NEO) on a “potentially hazardous orbit.” This asteroid had first been spotted by the NEOWISE (NEO Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) team. However, they had been unable to pin down its orbit. Additionally, poor weather in Hawaii and Arizona had stymied all other attempts to image this object. To make matters even worse, the asteroid was rapidly moving towards lower solar elongations which would bring it in line with the Sun and make later observations impossible.

Luckily, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) was on the scene as humanity’s best, last, and only line of defense. Cerro Tololo was enjoying some of the finest weather Chile has to offer, and DECam’s large field of view makes it an excellent instrument for tracking down errant asteroids. Soon after sunset, the Blanco 4m telescope swung towards the best guess for the asteroid’s position and DECam took five images, dithering slightly to make sure the asteroid couldn’t slip through the gaps between CCDs, DECam’s digital imaging chips.

After rapid processing, the DECam images revealed a new Apollo-class asteroid, 2014 BE63. The NEOWISE team confirmed that 2014 BE63 will cross the Earth’s orbit; however, the closest approach to Earth itself will be at a safe distance of 18 million miles.

We dark energy detectives can rest easy knowing that, in the words of Steve Kent [FNAL], “2014 BE63 poses no threat to DES observations (and no threat to Earth).

Written by Detective Alex Drlica-Wagner [DES, FNAL]
Video by Alex Drlica-Wagner


Video

Beyond the Veil, but not Beyond Reach

When I awake each afternoon during an observing mission at the Cerro Tolo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), I have one priority. Before I eat, before I check e-mail, before I even stretch, I step out the door and look to the west: are our skies clear? Clouds can cast a shroud over a night’s observing program for the Dark Energy Survey (DES), which is now in full swing, each night gathering a terabyte of clues to dark energy. If our view is blocked by clouds, if we’re not taking data and peering into the deep black, we’re missing precious opportunities to observe space-time’s expansion.

To mitigate this, the Dark Energy Survey has developed another tool to pierce the veil of Earth’s atmosphere: the Radiometric All Sky Infrared Camera, or RASICAM.

The video above shows RASICAM closed during the day and then open after sun-down. RASICAM sees the entire sky in the infrared wavelengths, where our eyes are blind, but the clouds show up clearly. DES scientists and engineers at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) National Laboratory designed and constructed this all-seeing eye on the infrared sky, and it’s been operational at CTIO since 2011 (http://today.slac.stanford.edu/feature/2010/rasicam.asp). In future posts, we’ll look at the sky from RASICAM’s point of view.

RASICAM is critical to DES operations. We use this camera to help inform us about how many clouds are in the sky, as well as where they are. We can then adjust our observing strategy and better analyze the image data. The instrument is brought to us by Rafe Schindler, Peter Lewis and Howard Rogers. Data analyses and maintenance are performed regularly by Kevin Reil, Dave Burke, Peter Lewis and Zhang Zhang.

Occasionally, clouds may appear or rain may fall, but dark energy cannot hide from us.

Det. B. Nord


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One Star Sets, Others Rise

The first season of the Dark Energy Survey is now drawing to a close. For another few weeks, we will continue to watch the sky from the summery Southern Hemisphere. After that, others in the astronomy community will take the reins of the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) until September.

Early in the season, the clouds (and occasionally rain) interrupted this work. For example, in October of 2013, late-evening skies of plum-golden hue gave us the sunsets you see in today’s picture. Even though there were cloudy nights early in the season, this was anticipated. We’re using basic climate and weather models to plan our survey, so we can still observe fruitfully when visibility isn’t the best. Moreover, we can use the data from this past year to improve our survey strategy for the coming four years.

However, the rest of the season has been great, with many nights of very little air turbulence in the atmosphere, meaning we captured very clear images. Astronomers talk about this using the term, “seeing,” which is measured in “arcseconds.” The lower the seeing, the clearer and crisper the images. At the Cerro Tololo Inter-american Observatory, typical values are near one arc-second.

Right now, our squads are sifting through and preparing these images for science, and preparing them to share with you.

In less than a month, the sun will rise on our first season, but the long nights of work will continue.

 

Det. B. Nord