From FNAL: “Clearest Picture Yet of Dark Matter Points the Way to Better Understanding of Dark Energy – January 9, 2012”

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FNAL Art Image by Angela Gonzales

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July 15, 2016
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Scientists at Fermilab and Berkeley Lab build the biggest map of dark matter yet, using methods that will improve ground-based surveys

Two teams of physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have independently made the largest direct measurements of the invisible scaffolding of the universe, building maps of dark matter using new methods that, in turn, will remove key hurdles for understanding dark energy with ground-based telescopes.

The teams’ measurements look for tiny distortions in the images of distant galaxies, called “cosmic shear,” caused by the gravitational influence of massive, invisible dark matter structures in the foreground. Accurately mapping out these dark-matter structures and their evolution over time is likely to be the most sensitive of the few tools available to physicists in their ongoing effort to understand the mysterious space-stretching effects of dark energy.

Teams from Fermilab and Berkeley Lab used galaxies from wide-ranging SDSS Stripe 82, a tiny detail of which is shown here, to plot new maps of dark matter based on the largest direct measurements of cosmic shear to date. Credit: SDSS.

SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA
SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA

Both teams depended upon extensive databases of cosmic images collected by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), which were compiled in large part with the help of Berkeley Lab and Fermilab.

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“These results are very encouraging for future large sky surveys. The images produced lead to a picture of the galaxies in the universe that is about six times fainter, or further back in time, than is available from single images,” says Huan Lin, a Fermilab physicist and member of the SDSS and the Dark Energy Survey (DES).

Layering photos of one area of sky taken at various time periods, a process called coaddition, can increase the sensitivity of the images six fold by removing errors and enhancing faint light signals. The image on the left show a single picture of galaxies from the SDSS Stripe 82 area of sky. The image on the right shows the same area with the layered effect, increasing the number of visible, distant galaxies. Credit: SDSS.

Several large astronomical surveys, such as the Dark Energy Survey, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and the HyperSuprimeCam survey, will try to measure cosmic shear in the coming years.

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Weak lensing distortions are so subtle, however, that the same atmospheric effects that cause stars to twinkle at night pose a formidable challenge for cosmic shear measurements. Until now, no ground-based cosmic-shear measurement has been able to completely and provably separate weak lensing effects from the atmospheric distortions.

“The community has been building towards cosmic shear measurements for a number of years now,” says Huff, an astronomer at Berkeley Lab, “but there’s also been some skepticism as to whether they can be done accurately enough to constrain dark energy. Showing that we can achieve the required accuracy with these pathfinding studies is important for the next generation of large surveys.”

To construct dark matter maps, the Berkeley Lab and Fermilab teams used images of galaxies collected between 2000 and 2009 by SDSS surveys I and II, using the 2.5-meter SLOAN telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. The galaxies lie within a continuous ribbon of sky known as SDSS Stripe 82, lying along the celestial equator and encompassing 275 square degrees. The galaxy images were captured in multiple passes over many years.

The two teams layered snapshots of a given area taken at different times, a process called coaddition, to remove errors caused by the atmospheric effects and to enhance very faint signals coming from distant parts of the universe. The teams used different techniques to model and control for the atmospheric variations and to measure the lensing signal, and have performed an exhaustive series of tests to prove that these models work.

Gravity tends to pull matter together into dense concentrations, but dark energy acts as a repulsive force that slows down the collapse. Thus the clumpiness of the dark matter maps provides a measurement of the amount of dark energy in the universe.

Constrains on cosmological parameters from SDSS Stripe 82 cosmic shear at the 1- and 2-sigma level. Also shown are the constraints from WMAP. The innermost region is the combined constrain from both WMAP and Stripe 82. Credit: SDSS.

When they compared their final results before the AAS meeting, both teams found somewhat less structure than would have been expected from other measurements such as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), but, says Berkeley Lab’s Huff, “the results are not yet different enough from previous experiments to ring any alarm bells.”

Meanwhile, says Lin, “Our image-correction processes should prove a valuable tool for the next generation of weak-lensing surveys.”

See the full article here .

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Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. Fermilab is America’s premier laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Thousands of scientists from universities and laboratories around the world
collaborate at Fermilab on experiments at the frontiers of discovery.