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Durham University

Durham University News


Five thousand eyes on the sky

(18 November 2019)

A cutting-edge new telescope instrument designed and built by an international team including Durham University has taken its first observations of the night sky.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has 5,000 fibre-optic eyes designed to give scientists a unique view of our rapidly growing universe.

The expansion of the universe is speeding up, although scientists are yet to discover why.

Dark energy

Dark energy is one agent thought to be contributing to this expansion and DESI will seek to measure its properties.

The telescope instrument’s fibre-optic system, led by Durham, will split light from objects in space like galaxies, quasars and stars into narrow bands of colour to map their distance from Earth.

By looking at how far and how quickly galaxies and quasars are moving away from our planet, researchers will be able to gauge how much and how fast the universe has expanded.

DESI is an instrument of the Mayall Telescope in Arizona, USA, and brings together 500 scientists at 75 institutions across 13 countries.

Early universe

Over the next five years, DESI will map the distance to 35 million galaxies and 2.4 million quasars across one-third of the night sky.

It will look back about 11 billion years in time when the universe was in its infancy and early development.

DESI will collect ten times more data on galaxies and quasars than humans have collected to date.

In ideal conditions, the instrument will be able to capture a new set of 5,000 galaxies every 20 minutes.

Formal observations will begin in 2020 when DESI will create the most detailed 3D map of the universe ever created.

Find out more

Cosmology and Astronomy at Durham.

Discover more about our Undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities in Physics.

Learn more about DESI which is led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, provided £2.4million funding to support DESI instrumentation development at Durham and UCL, and to help about 30 UK academic staff and students to take part. 

The other universities in the DESI UK Collaboration are Portsmouth, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Cambridge and Warwick.

Video credit: The Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, USA. Credit: National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA/NSF

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