(ORDO NEWS) — If you thought dark matter was hard to study, then dark energy is even harder to study. Dark energy is perhaps the most subtle phenomenon in the universe.
It governs the evolution of the cosmos, but its effects are only visible on an intergalactic scale. Thus, to study dark energy in detail, you need many observations of large areas of the sky.
That’s why the US Department of Energy worked with astronomers a decade ago to build the Dark Energy Camera (DECam).
It is the highest resolution astronomical camera ever made, with over 60 CCD imaging sensors and taking pictures at a resolution of 570 megapixels.
It was mounted on the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, giving it a field of view over 2 degrees wide, four times the apparent width of the Moon.
Between 2013 and 2019, DECam averaged 400–500 images per night, studying distant supernovae, measuring the scale of galaxy clusters, and studying the weak gravitational lensing of intergalactic dark matter.
This data has deepened our understanding of dark energy and helped astronomers refine observations so they can better fit theoretical models to observations.
But when DECam celebrated its 10th anniversary, the team decided to do something a little different. The high-resolution wide-angle camera is great for capturing data, but it’s also pretty good for creating stunning images.
Therefore, they decided to send it to the nebula NGC 6357, also known as the Lobster Nebula. It lies about 8,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Scorpio and is an area of intense star formation. The results were amazing.
The image spans about 400 light-years and shows bright young stars amidst dense clumps of gas. To capture the details of this image, the DECam team used narrow-band filters to capture specific colors within the nebula.
They then combined and colorized these frames to create the final image. This is an amazing demonstration of DECam’s capabilities.
Of course, with ten years of experience under its belt, DECam is not going to stop anytime soon. She recently took her millionth shot, and in time she may well take another million.
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