Galactic ballet captured by state-of-the-art dark energy cameras
The DOE-funded dark energy camera at NSF’s NOIRLab in Chile captures a pair of galaxies in a gravitational double.
The interactive galaxy pair NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 is at the center of this image of the state-of-the-art wide-field 570-megapixel imager on the Víctor M. Blanco 4, a US Department of Energy-fabricated dark energy camera. Metro Telescope at the Sero Tololo Inter-American Observatory, a program of NSF’s NOIRLab. NGC 1512 has been in the process of merging with its small galaxy for 400 million years, and this extracted interaction has ignited waves of star formation.
Observations of the restricted spiral galaxy NGC 1512 (left) and its lower neighbor NGC 1510 (image at the top of the article) by Victor M. Blanco was picked up through a 4-meter telescope. In addition to revealing the intricate internal structure of NGC 1512, this image appears to extend to the galaxy’s dilated outer fibers and overlap its smaller companion. The star flow of light connecting the two galaxies is evidence of their gravitational interaction – a magnificent and beautiful contact that has been going on for 400 million years. The gravitational interaction of NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 is distorting the rate of formation of stars in both galaxies as well as their shapes. Over time, NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 will merge into one larger galaxy – a drawn example of galaxy evolution.
These interacting galaxies are in the southern celestial hemisphere in the direction of the constellation Horologium and are about 60 million light-years from Earth. The wide range of these observations reflects not only the intersecting galaxies, but also the star-studded surroundings around them. The frame is filled with stars at the bright front in the galaxy and is set against the backdrop of even more distant galaxies.
This image was taken with the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), one of the world’s highest-performing wide-field imaging devices. This instrument is Victor M. Blanco is located on top of a 4-meter telescope, and its useful point is the telescope’s 4-meter-wide (13-foot-wide) mirror, which allows to collect light from a massive, aluminum-coated and precisely reflected star. A piece of glass shaped like the weight of a half truck. After passing through DECam’s optical innards – with a corrective lens across about one meter (3.3 feet) – Starlight is captured by a grid of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs). These CCDs are similar to the sensors found in ordinary digital cameras but are more sensitive and allow the instrument to produce detailed images of blurry celestial objects such as NGC 1512 and NGC 1510.
Large astronomical instruments, such as the DECam, are custom-made masterpieces of optical engineering, which require a great deal of effort before first capturing images from astronomers, engineers and technicians. Funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with the contribution of international partners, DECam was manufactured and tested at DOE’s Fermilab, where scientists and engineers created a “telescope simulator” – Victor M. A replica of the upper Blanco 4-meter telescope – which allowed them to thoroughly test DECam before sending it to Cerro Tololo in Chile.
DECam was created to conduct the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a six-year observation mission (2013 to 2019) involving more than 400 scientists from 25 organizations in seven countries. This international collaborative effort began with the mapping of millions of galaxies, the discovery of thousands of supernovae, and the discovery of fragile patterns of global structure – all of which provided much-needed details of the mysterious dark energy that accelerated the expansion of the universe. Even today, DECAM is used by scientists around the world for programs that carry on the legacy of cutting-edge science.