Giant digital camera probes cosmic 'dark energy,' the universe's deepest mystery
From The Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2013
With the whir of a giant digital camera, the biggest mystery in the universe is about to become a bit less mysterious.
Fifteen years ago, the world of science was rocked by the discovery that, contrary to our notions of gravity, distant galaxies appeared to be flying apart at an ever-accelerating rate. The observation implied that space itself was stretching apart faster and faster. It was akin to watching a dropped ball reverse course, speed upward and disappear into the sky.
The discovery made many cosmologists—the scientists who probe the very nature of nature itself—acutely uncomfortable. For either our understanding of gravity is cockeyed, or some mysterious repulsive force—quickly and glibly dubbed "dark energy"—permeates the universe.
In 2011, the Nobel Committee blessed the improbable discovery as real, handing their prize in physics to the two teams that nearly simultaneously made the observation.
"As unhappy as it made some of us, the expansion of the universe is indeed accelerating," said Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. "That's how the universe works."
Now, after years of planning and construction, four new projects at telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and the South Pole are getting a handle on what, exactly, is doing this unseemly pushing.