The Dark Energy Survey is releasing to the public a massive collection of astronomical data and calibrated images collected over six years of scanning the southern skies. The release, which includes images of nearly 700 million astronomical objects, is one of the largest astronomical catalogs issued to date.
The Dark Energy Survey, or DES, was an international collaboration led by UChicago-affiliated Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which spent more than half a decade collecting and analyzing data from the sky. The project covered 5,000 square degrees of the southern sky (one-eighth of the entire sky) and spanning billions of light-years, with the ultimate goal of understanding the accelerating expansion of the universe and the phenomenon called “dark energy” thought to be responsible for this expansion.
The new catalog, called DR2, was released by a collaboration including Fermilab, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, during a session held Jan. 14 at the 237th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
“This is a momentous milestone. For six years, the Dark Energy Survey collaboration took pictures of distant celestial objects in the night sky. Now, after carefully checking the quality and calibration of the images captured by the Dark Energy Camera, we are releasing this second batch of data to the public,” said Dark Energy Survey director Rich Kron, Prof. Emeritus of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago and Fermilab scientist. “We invite professional and amateur scientists alike to dig into what we consider a rich mine of gems waiting to be discovered.”
DR2 is the second data release in the survey’s seven-year history, building on the 400 million objects cataloged with the survey’s prior data release and improving on it by refining calibration techniques. Paired with the deeper combined images, DR2 includes improved estimates of the amount and distribution of matter in the universe.
Astronomical researchers around the world can access these unprecedented data and mine them to make new discoveries about the universe, complementary to the studies being carried out by the Dark Energy Survey collaboration. The full data release is online and available to the public to explore.
The Dark Energy Survey was designed to map hundreds of millions of galaxies and to discover thousands of supernovae in order to measure the history of cosmic expansion and the growth of large-scale structure in the universe, both of which reflect the nature and amount of dark energy in the universe. The primary tool in collecting these images, the Dark Energy Camera, is mounted to the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, part of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Chilean Andes, part of National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab.