This telescope will actually see dark matter

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Dec 13, 2016

Dark matter may not be staying in the dark too much longer.

Demystifying the mystery of dark matter and dark energy could finally cross over from sci-fi-fantasies to actual science with the power of grid computing. Using the UK’s GridPP collaboration, which reaches worldwide to harness the power of multiple computer brains at once, the research team at the University of Manchester has been able to develop a telescope with an almost supernatural sort of night vision that will be able to see beyond celestial bodies and bring these galactic shadows to light.

Since GridPP was a critical part of the computing grid that unmasked the Higgs Boson—that ever-elusive “God Particle” that explains why some particles that the laws of physics insist aren’t supposed to have mass somehow do against the odds—at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, aka CERN. GridPP’s stellar résumé means you can trust it to find (almost) improbable things in space. Similar resources will process infinite images and algorithms from the Dark Energy Survey. While DES sounds more like an underground detective unit than anything related to astronomy or astrophysics, it is actually an international effort to map galaxies, seek out supernovae and shine new understanding on dark matter.

With technologies that sound straight out of Star Trek, the scientists at Manchester are collaborating with various teams to build a telescope that could have been borrowed from the USS Enterprise. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST, is expected to gaze at the sky from the Chilean mountains for a decade and map everything within its field of vision. Its futuristic mission hinges on the pilot project currently using specialized software to map and further analyze the visible evidence of dark matter and energy otherwise known as cosmic shear. Caused by weak gravitational lensing, this distortion of how we see distant galaxies will give us new insight into the cryptic fabric of space that is thought to make up 95% of what we earthlings have been able to observe (via telescope lens) in the universe.

The LSST will not only take galactic glamour shots but produce them at every frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum visible to the human eye. Think of it as having a multitude of pictures and X-rays taken along with an extensive background check. Every image will provide unique insight into the histories of billions of galaxies, some of which were glowing with gaseous radiation before our own planet was even a cesspool of primordial ooze. Not only will this super-telescope expose the secrets of dark matter, but it will also detect quasars and potentially apocalyptic asteroids, from the swirl of stars that is the Milky Way to the far reaches of alien galaxies. LSST’s massive sky survey operation is expected to take off in 2023.

“Our overall aim is to tackle the mystery of the dark universe — and this pilot project has been hugely significant,” says Professor Sarah Bridle, member of the pilot research team captained by cosmologist Joe Zuntz. “When the LSST is fully operating, researchers will face a galactic data deluge — and our work will prepare us for the analytical challenge ahead.”

(Via Astronomy Now)