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  • richardmitnick 4:21 pm on August 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , LSST-Large Synoptic Survey Telescope,   

    From Quanta: “Scientists Unveil a New Inventory of the Universe’s Dark Contents” 

    Quanta Magazine
    Quanta Magazine

    August 3, 2017
    Natalie Wolchover

    In a much-anticipated analysis of its first year of data, the Dark Energy Survey (DES) telescope experiment has gauged the amount of dark energy and dark matter in the universe by measuring the clumpiness of galaxies — a rich and, so far, barely tapped source of information that many see as the future of cosmology.

    Dark Energy Survey


    Dark Energy Camera [DECam], built at FNAL


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    The analysis, posted on DES’s website today and based on observations of 26 million galaxies in a large swath of the southern sky, tweaks estimates only a little. It draws the pie chart of the universe as 74 percent dark energy and 21 percent dark matter, with galaxies and all other visible matter — everything currently known to physicists — filling the remaining 5 percent sliver.

    The results are based on data from the telescope’s first observing season, which began in August 2013 and lasted six months. Since then, three more rounds of data collection have passed; the experiment begins its fifth and final planned observing season this month. As the 400-person team analyzes more of this data in the coming years, they’ll begin to test theories about the nature of the two invisible substances that dominate the cosmos — particularly dark energy, “which is what we’re ultimately going after,” said Joshua Frieman, co-founder and director of DES and an astrophysicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and the University of Chicago. Already, with their first-year data, the experimenters have incrementally improved the measurement of a key quantity that will reveal what dark energy is.

    Both terms — dark energy and dark matter — are mental place holders for unknown physics. “Dark energy” refers to whatever is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate, as astronomers first discovered it to be doing in 1998. And great clouds of missing “dark matter” have been inferred from 80 years of observations of their apparent gravitational effect on visible matter (though whether dark matter consists of actual particles or something else, nobody knows).

    The balance of the two unknown substances sculpts the distribution of galaxies. “As the universe evolves, the gravity of dark matter is making it more clumpy, but dark energy makes it less clumpy because it’s pushing galaxies away from each other,” Frieman said. “So the present clumpiness of the universe is telling us about that cosmic tug-of-war between dark matter and dark energy.”

    2
    The Dark Energy Survey uses a 570-megapixel camera mounted on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile (left). The camera is made out of 74 individual light-gathering wafers.

    A Dark Map

    Until now, the best way to inventory the cosmos has been to look at the Cosmic Microwave Background [CMB]: pristine light from the infant universe that has long served as a wellspring of information for cosmologists, but which — after the Planck space telescope mapped it in breathtakingly high resolution in 2013 — has less and less to offer.

    CMB per ESA/Planck

    ESA/Planck

    Cosmic microwaves come from the farthest point that can be seen in every direction, providing a 2-D snapshot of the universe at a single moment in time, 380,000 years after the Big Bang (the cosmos was dark before that). Planck’s map of this light shows an extremely homogeneous young universe, with subtle density variations that grew into the galaxies and voids that fill the universe today.

    Galaxies, after undergoing billions of years of evolution, are more complex and harder to glean information from than the cosmic microwave background, but according to experts, they will ultimately offer a richer picture of the universe’s governing laws since they span the full three-dimensional volume of space. “There’s just a lot more information in a 3-D volume than on a 2-D surface,” said Scott Dodelson, co-chair of the DES science committee and an astrophysicist at Fermilab and the University of Chicago.

    To obtain that information, the DES team scrutinized a section of the universe spanning an area 1,300 square degrees wide in the sky — the total area of 6,500 full moons — and stretching back 8 billion years (the data were collected by the half-billion-pixel Dark Energy Camera mounted on the Victor M. Blanco Telescope in Chile). They statistically analyzed the separations between galaxies in this cosmic volume. They also examined the distortion in the galaxies’ apparent shapes — an effect known as “weak gravitational lensing” that indicates how much space-warping dark matter lies between the galaxies and Earth. These two probes — galaxy clustering and weak lensing — are two of the four approaches that DES will eventually use to inventory the cosmos. Already, the survey’s measurements are more precise than those of any previous galaxy survey, and for the first time, they rival Planck’s.

    4

    “This is entering a new era of cosmology from galaxy surveys,” Frieman said. With DES’s first-year data, “galaxy surveys have now caught up to the cosmic microwave background in terms of probing cosmology. That’s really exciting because we’ve got four more years where we’re going to go deeper and cover a larger area of the sky, so we know our error bars are going to shrink.”

    For cosmologists, the key question was whether DES’s new cosmic pie chart based on galaxy surveys would differ from estimates of dark energy and dark matter inferred from Planck’s map of the cosmic microwave background. Comparing the two would reveal whether cosmologists correctly understand how the universe evolved from its early state to its present one. “Planck measures how much dark energy there should be” at present by extrapolating from its state at 380,000 years old, Dodelson said. “We measure how much there is.”

    The DES scientists spent six months processing their data without looking at the results along the way — a safeguard against bias — then “unblinded” the results during a July 7 video conference. After team leaders went through a final checklist, a member of the team ran a computer script to generate the long-awaited plot: DES’s measurement of the fraction of the universe that’s matter (dark and visible combined), displayed together with the older estimate from Planck. “We were all watching his computer screen at the same time; we all saw the answer at the same time. That’s about as dramatic as it gets,” said Gary Bernstein, an astrophysicist at the University of Pennsylvania and co-chair of the DES science committee.

    Planck pegged matter at 33 percent of the cosmos today, plus or minus two or three percentage points. When DES’s plots appeared, applause broke out as the bull’s-eye of the new matter measurement centered on 26 percent, with error bars that were similar to, but barely overlapped with, Planck’s range.

    “We saw they didn’t quite overlap,” Bernstein said. “But everybody was just excited to see that we got an answer, first, that wasn’t insane, and which was an accurate answer compared to before.”

    Statistically speaking, there’s only a slight tension between the two results: Considering their uncertainties, the 26 and 33 percent appraisals are between 1 and 1.5 standard deviations or “sigma” apart, whereas in modern physics you need a five-sigma discrepancy to claim a discovery. The mismatch stands out to the eye, but for now, Frieman and his team consider their galaxy results to be consistent with expectations based on the cosmic microwave background. Whether the hint of a discrepancy strengthens or vanishes as more data accumulate will be worth watching as the DES team embarks on its next analysis, expected to cover its first three years of data.

    If the possible discrepancy between the cosmic-microwave and galaxy measurements turns out to be real, it could create enough of a tension to lead to the downfall of the “Lambda-CDM model” of cosmology, the standard theory of the universe’s evolution. Lambda-CDM is in many ways a simple model that starts with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, then bolts on dark energy and dark matter. A replacement for Lambda-CDM might help researchers uncover the quantum theory of gravity that presumably underlies everything else.

    What Is Dark Energy?

    According to Lambda-CDM, dark energy is the “cosmological constant,” represented by the Greek symbol lambda Λ in Einstein’s theory; it’s the energy that infuses space itself, when you get rid of everything else. This energy has negative pressure, which pushes space away and causes it to expand. New dark energy arises in the newly formed spatial fabric, so that the density of dark energy always remains constant, even as the total amount of it relative to dark matter increases over time, causing the expansion of the universe to speed up.

    The universe’s expansion is indeed accelerating, as two teams of astronomers discovered in 1998 by observing light from distant supernovas. The discovery, which earned the leaders of the two teams the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics, suggested that the cosmological constant has a positive but “mystifyingly tiny” value, Bernstein said. “There’s no good theory that explains why it would be so tiny.” (This is the “cosmological constant problem” that has inspired anthropic reasoning and the dreaded multiverse hypothesis.)

    On the other hand, dark energy could be something else entirely. Frieman, whom colleagues jokingly refer to as a “fallen theorist,” studied alternative models of dark energy before co-founding DES in 2003 in hopes of testing his and other researchers’ ideas. The leading alternative theory envisions dark energy as a field that pervades space, similar to the “inflaton field” that most cosmologists think drove the explosive inflation of the universe during the Big Bang. The slowly diluting energy of the inflaton field would have exerted a negative pressure that expanded space, and Frieman and others have argued that dark energy might be a similar field that is dynamically evolving today.

    DES’s new analysis incrementally improves the measurement of a parameter that distinguishes between these two theories — the cosmological constant on the one hand, and a slowly changing energy field on the other. If dark energy is the cosmological constant, then the ratio of its negative pressure and density has to be fixed at −1. Cosmologists call this ratio w. If dark energy is an evolving field, then its density would change over time relative to its pressure, and w would be different from −1.

    Remarkably, DES’s first-year data, when combined with previous measurements, pegs w’s value at −1, plus or minus roughly 0.04. However, the present level of accuracy still isn’t enough to tell if we’re dealing with a cosmological constant rather than a dynamic field, which could have w within a hair of −1. “That means we need to keep going,” Frieman said.

    The DES scientists will tighten the error bars around w in their next analysis, slated for release next year; they’ll also measure the change in w over time, by probing its value at different cosmic distances. (Light takes time to reach us, so distant galaxies reveal the universe’s past). If dark energy is the cosmological constant, the change in w will be zero. A nonzero measurement would suggest otherwise.

    Larger galaxy surveys might be needed to definitively measure w and the other cosmological parameters. In the early 2020s, the ambitious Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will start collecting light from 20 billion galaxies and other cosmological objects, creating a high-resolution map of the universe’s clumpiness that will yield a big jump in accuracy.

    LSST


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC



    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    The data might confirm that we occupy a Lambda-CDM universe, infused with an inexplicably tiny cosmological constant and full of dark matter whose nature remains elusive. But Frieman doesn’t discount the possibility of discovering that dark energy is an evolving quantum field, which would invite a deeper understanding by going beyond Einstein’s theory and tying cosmology to quantum physics.

    “With these surveys — DES and LSST that comes after it — the prospects are quite bright,” Dodelson said. “It is more complicated to analyze these things because the cosmic microwave background is simpler, and that is good for young people in the field because there’s a lot of work to do.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Formerly known as Simons Science News, Quanta Magazine is an editorially independent online publication launched by the Simons Foundation to enhance public understanding of science. Why Quanta? Albert Einstein called photons “quanta of light.” Our goal is to “illuminate science.” At Quanta Magazine, scientific accuracy is every bit as important as telling a good story. All of our articles are meticulously researched, reported, edited, copy-edited and fact-checked.

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  • richardmitnick 2:26 pm on July 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , HeraldNet, LSST-Large Synoptic Survey Telescope,   

    From U Washington via Heraldnet: “UW scientists may save the Earth using computer algorithms” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    1

    HeraldNet

    Jun 29th, 2017
    Katherine Long

    1
    Andrew Connolly, left, director of DIRAC, a new institute for intensive survey astrophysics at the University of Washington, and Zeljko Ivezic, a professor of astronomy and a key player in the development of software for the LSST telescope in Chile, stand in the planetarium at the UW. They’re involved in a major project to create a map of all the asteroids in our solar system, and to figure out which ones might pose a danger to Earth. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times) [U Washington]

    Scientists at the University of Washington are writing computer algorithms that could one day save the world — and that’s no exaggeration.

    Working away in the university’s quiet Physics/Astronomy building, these scientists are teaching computers how to sift through massive amounts of data to identify asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

    Together with 60 colleagues at six other universities, the 20 UW scientists are part of a massive new data project to catalog space itself, using the largest digital camera ever made.

    Five years from now, a sky-scanning telescope under construction in Chile will begin photographing the night sky with a 3,200-megapixel camera. The telescope will have the power to peer into the solar system and beyond, and track things we have never been able to track before — including asteroids, the rubble left behind during the formation of the solar system.

    LSST


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC



    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    When it is up and running, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will produce 20 terabytes of images every night, and will be able to photograph half the night sky every three days, said Andrew Connolly, one of the UW astronomers working on the project.

    It will replace the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which dates back to 1998, and which was only able to cover one-eighth the sky over 10 years.

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA

    The LSST’s mission is different from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which sends back detailed photos of specific regions of space, but does not take vast surveys of everything in the sky.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    The danger asteroids pose became clear in 2013, when more than 1,000 people were reportedly injured after a meteor exploded near the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. (Meteorites are closely related to asteroids.)

    And 66 million years ago, many scientists believe, an asteroid the size of a mountain smashed into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, dramatically changing Earth’s environment and wiping out the dinosaurs.

    Scientists have already plotted the orbits of more than 700,000 known asteroids in the solar system, said Željko Ivezic, a UW astronomy professor and project scientist for LSST. The LSST will help astronomers identify an estimated 5 million more.

    That’s why teaching a computer to identify asteroids is such vital work.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.

    So what defines us — the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
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