Galactic ballet filmed from NSF’s NOIRLab in Chile

(ORDO NEWS) — Spiral galaxy NGC 1512 (left) and its miniature neighbor NGC 1510 were captured in this image from the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco telescope.

In addition to NGC 1512’s complex internal structure, this image shows the galaxy’s vague outer tendrils that stretch and appear to envelop its tiny companion.

The stellar stream of light connecting two galaxies testifies to the gravitational interaction between them – a majestic and elegant connection that has been going on for 400 million years.

The gravitational interaction of NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 affected the rate of star formation in both galaxies and also distorted their shape. Eventually, NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 will merge into one large galaxy – an extended example of galactic evolution.

These interacting galaxies lie in the direction of the constellation Clock in the southern celestial hemisphere and are about 40 million light-years away from Earth.

The wide field of view of this observation reveals not only intertwining galaxies, but also their star-studded surroundings. The frame captures bright foreground stars within the Milky Way and against the background of even more distant galaxies.

The image was captured using one of the world’s highest performance wide-angle imaging instruments, the Dark Energy Camera (DECam).

Mounted on top of the 4m Víctor M. Blanco Telescope, this instrument has a vantage point to collect starlight reflected by the telescope’s 4m wide mirror, a massive piece of aluminum-coated, precisely shaped piece of glass that weighs half a truck.

After passing through the DECam’s optical innards – including a corrective lens nearly a meter across – the starlight is captured by a grid of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs).

These CCDs are similar to the sensors used in conventional digital cameras, but are much more sensitive and allow the instrument to produce detailed images of faint astronomical objects such as NGC 1512 and NGC 1510.

Large astronomical instruments such as the DECam are custom-made masterpieces of optical engineering and require tremendous effort on the part of astronomers, engineers and technicians before the first images are taken.

The DECam was built and tested at Fermilab, where the scientists and engineers built a “telescope simulator” replica of the upper segments of the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco telescope, allowing them to thoroughly test the DECam before shipping it to Cerro Tololo in Chile.

DECam was created to host the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a six-year observational campaign (from 2013 to 2019) involving over 400 scientists from 25 institutions in seven countries.

This international collaboration has focused on mapping hundreds of millions of galaxies, detecting thousands of supernovae and revealing subtle patterns in cosmic structure – all in order to gain much-needed insight into the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe.

Today, DECam is still used for programs by scientists around the world, continuing its legacy of cutting-edge science.

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