Updates to the Dark Energy Survey

Currently in the middle of its designated five-year mission, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) aims to probe the very fundamentals of the Universe and the forces which have driven its evolution since the Big Bang.

To carry out such an exploration, the survey collects optical and near-infrared light using the Victor M. Blanco telescope in Chile, and then processes this data using several different methods.

Each separate approach (weak gravitational lensing, galaxy cluster counting, Type 1a supernovae, and Baryon Acoustic Oscillations) can be used to study the cosmos in unique ways, with a clever combination of all four allowing for unprecedented observations of the fundamentals of our Universe.

Many teams are currently working on each of the observational methods with some new and exciting results. In late 2015, Donnacha Kirk and his team looked at the presence of weak lensing in some images taken by DES. By cross-correlating this with observations from other satellites and telescopes, such as the South Pole Telescope and Planck, they were able to show such an approach can be used to accurately probe the extent and distribution of the huge swathes of galaxy clusters and filaments which make up the large-scale structure in the high-redshift Universe.

Other groups, such as Kathy Romer and her team at the University of Sussex, are using a different approach to analyse the distribution of galaxy clusters in a bid to test how gravity holds up on the largest of scales.

The uses of DES are so broad that its results are even being used to learn more about gravitational waves, the ground-breaking discovery of which was made just months ago. Marcelle Soares-Santos and her team use DES data, working closely with LIGO (the organisation which made the discovery), and have recently been instructed by LIGO to look at areas of the sky from which the waves are thought to have emanated. The aim is to see whether the possible merger of two black holes is indeed the suspected wave source, or if it is something else altogether. So far, no source signals have been observed, but each observation refines the technique, increasing the chance of seeing something in the future.

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