Chile Dark Energy Photo Lab

Scientists believe that 70 percent of the universe is made up of dark energy — a mysterious force that works in opposition to gravity. Dark energy may explain why the universe is expanding more and more quickly, in direct conflict with the expectation from Einstein’s theory of general relativity that gravity should slow down the expansion.

But there is still a lot we don’t know.

In order to study the effects of dark energy, a team of more than 300 scientists from 25 international institutions — including four of our National Labs — collaborated to build an extremely sensitive 570-megapixel digital camera for a telescope in Chile to survey a large area of the southern sky. The camera was built and tested at Fermilab in 2012.

Now entering its second year surveying the universe, the Dark Energy Camera — or DECam — is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind. It can capture light from more than 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away with each “snapshot.”

To put that in perspective, former planet Pluto is only 13 light hours away from Earth. And it would take about 40,000 years of traveling at speeds of more than 35,000 miles per hour to reach the edge of our solar system, which is only two light years away.

So far the camera has tracked a potentially hazardous asteroid, discovered a rare superluminous supernova 7.8 billion light years away, and helped discover five new objects in the Kuiper Belt — a region in the outer reaches of our solar system.

Concurrently with the start of its second year, the Dark Energy Survey team is releasing breathtaking photos from the first year on its Dark Energy Detectives photo blog. Once every two weeks a new photo or video will be posted.

Some images taken by the DECam can also be viewed as part of the DECam Interactive, a photo mosaic of what the camera sees. And you can follow the Dark Energy Survey on twitter at @theDESurvey.

As the Dark Energy Survey gears up for another year of research, data from the first year of the survey will be released starting on September 1, hosted by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.