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Telescope offers clues on dark matter

Secrets of the Universe are to be revealed as a new telescope equipped with the world’s most powerful digital camera begins its observations of the night sky.

The Pan-STARRS sky survey telescope, known as PS1, will enable scientists to better understand the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, the material that is thought to account for much of the mass of the Universe but has never been proven to exist.

Astronomers from the Universities of Durham, Edinburgh and Queen’s University Belfast together with researchers from around the world are using the telescope to scan the skies from dusk to dawn each night.

Largest camera

PS1’s 1400 megapixel camera is the world’s largest - with about 150 times as many pixels as the average camera.

It is able to gather detailed images of almost three-quarters of the night sky from its base in Hawaii.

The device, built by the University of Hawaii, will enable scientists to assess wide areas of sky at a level of detail that was previously impossible.

Einstein’s theory

Scientists hope to use images of galaxies to validate Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

This predicts that light can bend around an object in space, such as dark matter, because it is pulled towards the object by gravity.

The telescope, which took more than a decade to develop, will also pinpoint new supernovae or stellar explosions, as well as near-earth asteroids.

Scientists will also be able to track fast-moving objects and exploding stars across nearly the whole sky.

Powerful computers will process the data from the telescope, which is expected to generate enough information over the three-year project to fill the equivalent of several thousand PCs.

Pan-STARRS has immense potential for mapping the distribution of matter in the Universe, even the unseen dark matter. Our goal is to do this over the majority of the sky for the first time – but there are still big challenges ahead for us.

Professor Alan HeavensSchool of Physics and Astronomy