Deep and Huge | by Brian Koberlein



13 September 2022

The Lobster Nebula NGC 6357 as seen by the Dark Energy Camera.
The Lobster Nebula NGC 6357 as seen by the Darkish Power Digicam.

In case you thought darkish matter was tough to check, finding out darkish vitality is much more difficult. Darkish vitality is probably probably the most refined phenomenon within the universe. It drives the evolution of the cosmos, however its results are solely seen on intergalactic scales. So to check darkish vitality intimately, you want quite a lot of observations of huge areas of the sky.

This is the reason ten years in the past the Division of Power labored with astronomers to construct the Darkish Power Digicam (DECam). It’s the highest decision astronomical digital camera ever constructed, with greater than 60 imaging CCDs, and captures photographs at 570 megapixels. It was put in on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, the place it has a subject of view greater than 2 levels huge, which is 4 instances the obvious width of the Moon.

The DECam mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope.
The DECam mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope.

Between 2013 and 2019, DECam captured a mean of 400 – 500 photographs an evening, taking a look at distant supernovae, measuring the size at which galaxies cluster collectively, and finding out the weak gravitational lensing of intergalactic darkish matter. This knowledge has given us a deeper understanding of darkish vitality and helped astronomers constrain observations to allow them to higher match theoretical fashions to statement.

However as DECam reached its first decade of operation, the workforce determined to do one thing a bit of totally different. A high-resolution wide-field digital camera is nice for capturing knowledge, but it surely’s additionally fairly good at capturing some superb photographs. So the workforce pointed it on the nebula NGC 6357, often known as the Lobster Nebula. It’s about 8,000 light-years from Earth within the constellation Scorpius and is an intense star-forming area. You may see the ends in the picture above, which is fairly gorgeous.

The picture spans about 400 light-years and exhibits brilliant younger stars amongst dense areas of fuel. To seize the main points of this picture, the DECam workforce used slim band filters to take photographs of particular colours throughout the nebula. Then mixed and colorized these photographs to create the ultimate picture. It’s an incredible demonstration of what the DECam can do.

In fact, with a decade of labor underneath its belt, the DECam has no intention of stopping any time quickly. It has lately captured its one-millionth picture, and given time it simply may seize one million extra.

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