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Dark Energy under Observation

Excellence Cluster “Universe” and LMU have joined the Dark Energy Survey

Munich, 11/24/2010

The Excellence Cluster "Origin and Structure of the Universe" and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München have joined the "Dark Energy Survey" (DES). This international observational campaign will start at the end of 2011. The understanding of Dark Energy is one of the key questions in the research of the Universe Cluster. For six astrophysicists and their research groups at the University Observatory of LMU Munich participation in this large-scale project will provide their research work with an important impetus: Membership gives them access to all the observational data collected by the project and the opportunity to work collaboratively with a strong international team of scientists focused on providing insights into one of the most important questions facing physics today.

The accelerating expansion of the Universe was discovered towards the end of the 1990s based on observations of very distant supernovae. Based on our present knowledge, Dark Energy is considered to be a possible cause of this accelerating expansion of the cosmos. The aim of DES is to unravel the mystery of Dark Energy with the help of sky surveys. The DES project, in which more than 120 scientists from the USA, Great Britain, Brazil, Spain, and Germany are involved, is scheduled to start at the end of 2011. The scientists plan to observe for 525 nights over a five-year period.

During this time the highly sensitive “DECam” camera will take more than 150,000 images, each covering more then 16 times the area of the full moon, and will collect data from 300 million distant galaxies, billions of light years away from the Earth in the southern sky. DECam will take pictures of each galaxy in five different optical filters. These survey data will be combined with a near-infrared survey being carried out at the ESO VISTA telescope. DES will deliver deep multi-color images of galaxies and quasars in the Universe. Furthermore, the survey will enable detection of sources that are more than ten times fainter than those detected by the most sensitive previous large sky surveys.

The heart of the campaign comprises a 570-megapixel digital camera (DECam), which is being mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Observatory in the Chilean Andes, together with a state of the art data management system that will use supercomputers in the US and in Germany to process the sky images into precise catalogs of the brightness and shape of each galaxy observed.

Researchers are currently discussing different forms of Dark Energy and whether Dark Energy changes with time. Compared to previous observational campaigns, DES will be the first to study the Dark Energy question using multiple independent astrophysical methods. To study Dark Energy, astrophysicists have to make a detour via Dark Matter, a further component of the Universe. The DES observations of galaxies will use gravitational lensing to enable the distribution of Dark Matter to be reconstructed; these data will in turn provide the scientists with information on the physical properties of Dark Energy. In addition, the DES will enable snapshots of the large-scale distribution of galaxies and galaxy clusters stretching back more than 10 billion years in time. These snapshots will allow the DES scientists to measure how large-scale structure is evolving in time and thereby infer the properties of the Dark Energy. A further component of the study involves the discovery of several thousand new supernovae at large distances, which will provide new distance measurements and direct tests of how the rate of cosmic acceleration has changed over time.

“DES will deliver a combination of independent tests on the nature of the cosmic acceleration or Dark Energy, thus setting a new standard for next generation missions”, says Professor Joseph Mohr, one of the DES members from the University Observatory, LMU. “Upcoming observational campaigns such as Euclid, LSST and the SKA have followed in DES's footsteps by adopting a similar multi-pronged approach to studying the nature of the Dark Energy.” Mohr is a co-founder of the DES project and is the project scientist for the data management project and the co-coordinator of the working group charged with executing the galaxy cluster study of the Dark Energy.

His colleague Professor Jochen Weller, leader of the group “Observational Astrophysics” at the Cluster, adds: “DES will enable us to measure the distribution and images of more than 300 million galaxies. This material will allow my research group to evaluate different models of the accelerated expansion of the Universe. Maybe we will find the answer to the question, whether or not Einstein’s theory of gravity can be applied to very large distances.” Weller joined DES while a postdoc at Fermilab, and he is currently co-coordinating the science working group that is charged with combining the results from the four independent tests.

Other new members of DES at LMU include Professor Ralf Bender, Professor Andreas Burkert, Dr. Roberto Saglia and Dr. Stella Seitz. Their research groups are also involved in DES-related studies, focusing on gravitational lensing, the use of new spectroscopic instruments on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to further study interesting sources discovered by DES, and in the production of large-scale numerical simulations of structure formation and evolution in the Universe that can be directly compared to the DES measurements.

Additional information can be found on our website


About the Excellence Cluster Universe

The Excellence Cluster "Origin and Structure of the Universe" is a joint project of the physics faculties of the Technische Universität München (TUM) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München. Other partners in the internationally recognised research collaboration include the Max-Planck-Institutes for Physics, Astrophysics, for extraterrestrial Physics and Plasma Physics as well as the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The Excellence Cluster Universe was established at the TUM in October 2006 within the framework of the Excellence Initiative funded by the German Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG. The Cluster is located at the Research Center Garching.

In the collaboration, more than 200 scientists are committed to decoding the great secrets of the Universe:

  1. How does matter behave at extremely high energies and short distances?
  2. Is there symmetry between matter and forces?
  3. What is the origin of particle masses and the reason for their hierarchy?
  4. Which phase transitions took place in the early Universe?
  5. What are the dark components of the Universe?
  6. How did black holes form and evolve?
  7. How was the Universe enriched with heavy elements?


Press contact:
Barbara Wankerl
PR Manager
Excellence Cluster Universe
TU München
Phone: +49 (0) 89/35831-7105

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Jochen Weller
Observational Astrophysics
Excellence Cluster Universe
Phone: +49 (0) 89/35831-7138

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