We all learned in science class that the starlight we see in the night sky is actually light that's traveled millions (or even billions) of years to reach our eyes. Now astronomers have built a massive (and massively powerful) camera to capture the very oldest of this light, but it's not just to get pretty pictures.
Last week, a group of scientists from around the world announced that they'd captured first light with a brand-new, 570 megapixel device known as the Dark Energy Camera, built in a mountaintop observatory in Chile to conduct the Dark Energy Survey, a five-year quest for the most complete survey of the sky ever attempted.
So what's the goal? Well, the Dark Energy Camera—a phone booth-sized device made up of more than 60 highly sensitive components—is out to probe the mysteries of dark energy, a mysterious force that we know very little about but which might be the reason our universe is expanding at an accelerated rate.
The camera can see light from 100,000 galaxies in one shot, and by studying images of galaxy clusters, supernovae and other cosmic phenomena, the DES team hopes to find out more about how dark energy influences the movements of the universe.
"This will be the largest galaxy survey of its kind, and the galaxy shapes and positions will tell us a great deal about the nature of the physical process that we call Dark Energy, but do not currently understand," said Professor Will Percival, a member of the team from Portsmouth University.
The Dark Energy Survey will begin in full-force in December after the camera is fully tested. In the meantime, if your camera's got enough juice to capture 8 billion-year-old light the first time you turn it on, we're guessing you've probably got a chance of finding something cool.