The 15 Most Stunning Photos Captured by the Dark Energy Camera

The 15 Most Stunning Photos Captured by the Dark Energy Camera

The Dark Energy Camera has taken countless pictures. Here are 15 of the most spectacular.

The Dark Energy Camera captured more than a million images of the southern sky while high in the Chilean Andes. About 2.5 billion astronomical objects, including galaxies and clusters of galaxies, stars, comets, asteroids, dwarf planets and supernovae, are captured in the images.

The remarkable 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, first created on the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory of the US Department of Energy for the Research into dark energy, has been observing stars for ten years now. The international DES collaboration uses deep-space data to investigate dark energy, a phenomenon that is accelerating the expansion of space.

The Dark Energy Survey, whose scientists are now analyzing data from 2013 to 2019, isn’t the only project to benefit from the powerful device. The camera has also been used by other research teams to conduct additional astronomical surveys and observations. Here are just some of the stunning images captured by the Dark Energy Camera.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy

Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA; Thanks to: M. Soraisam (University of Illinois); Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Mahdi Zamani and Davide de Martin

The southern Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier 83 or NGC 5236) is located about 15 million light-years from Earth. It took DECam over 11 hours of exposure to capture this image. The camera is mounted on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, a program of NSF’s NOIRLab.

Dark Energy Survey 10 Deep Fields

Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Acknowledgments: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) and D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The Dark Energy Survey imaged one-eighth of the sky, capturing light from galaxies up to 8 billion light-years away. The survey repeatedly imaged 10 “deep fields” like the one shown here. By returning to certain parts of the sky, scientists can build up and collect different wavelengths of light to image incredibly distant galaxies and faint objects. These deep fields can be used to calibrate the rest of the DES data and to hunt for supernovas.

Dark Energy Survey Comet Lovejoy

Credit: Marty Murphy, Nikolay Kuropatkin, Huan Lin, and Brian Yanny; Research into dark energy

While the Dark Energy Survey typically looks at objects millions or billions of light years away, sometimes objects come closer. In 2014, the Dark Energy Survey discovered comet Lovejoy traveling about 51 million miles from Earth. Each rectangle in the image represents one of 62 CCDs DECam uses, each a sophisticated sensor designed to capture light from distant galaxies.

Spiral Galaxy NGC 1566

Credit: Dark Energy Survey

The spiral galaxy NGC 1566, also known as the Spanish Dancer, is located about 69 million light-years from Earth. Every DECam photo is the result of choices made during image processing. The camera uses five filters that each pick up a different wavelength of light (between 400 and 1,080 nanometers) and can be combined to create color images.

DECam Photo Milky Way

Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA/STScI, W. Clarkson (UM-Dearborn), C. Johnson (STScI), and M. Rich (UCLA)

This DECam photo, taken looking towards the center of our[{” attribute=””>Milky Way galaxy, covers an area roughly twice as wide as the full moon and contains more than 180,000 stars. You can also see a wider version encompassing more of the Milky Way’s bulge. While beautiful, the stars and dust of the Milky Way block out distant galaxies needed to study dark energy — so the Dark Energy Survey typically aims the telescope in the opposite direction, away from the plane of our galaxy.

Spiral Galaxy NGC 681

Credit: Erin Sheldon, Dark Energy Survey

From our position on Earth, we see the spiral galaxy NGC 681 from the side (or edge-on). The galaxy, also known as the Little Sombrero Galaxy, is about 66.5 million lightyears away. To keep images of distant objects as sharp as possible, DECam uses a mechanism called a Hexapod, which uses six pneumatically driven pistons to align the camera’s many optical elements between exposures. In addition to the five light filters, DECam also has five optical lenses, the biggest of which is more than 3 feet wide and weighs 388 pounds.

Small Magellanic Cloud

Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/SMASH/D. Nidever (Montana State University); Acknowledgment: Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Mahdi Zamani, and Davide de Martin

This image shows a wide-angle view of the Small Magellanic Cloud. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are dwarf satellite galaxies to the Milky Way, and their proximity makes them a valuable place to study star formation. The Dark Energy Camera captured deep looks at our galactic neighbors for the Survey of the Magellanic Stellar History or SMASH.

NGC 1515 Spiral Galaxy

Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani and D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The large galaxy at the center of this image is NGC 1515, a spiral galaxy with several neighboring galaxies in the Dorado Group. When looking at the large-scale structure of the universe, astronomers find galaxies are not distributed randomly but instead cluster together, forming a sort of cosmic web. The Dark Energy Survey has made some of the most-precise maps of the universe’s structure and its evolution over time.

Dark Energy Survey NGC 288

Credit: Robert Gruendl, Dark Energy Survey

NGC 288 is a globular cluster of stars located about 28,700 lightyears from Earth. These stars are bound together by gravity and are concentrated toward the center of the sphere. Globular clusters are an interesting way to study how stars and our own Milky Way evolved, though the Dark Energy Survey looks at distant galaxies and galaxy clusters to better understand dark energy.

Centaurus A Galaxy

Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/DOE/NSF/AURA; Acknowledgments: PI: M. Soraisam (the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign/NSF’s NOIRLab); Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) and D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

This Dark Energy Camera image shows light from Centaurus A, a galaxy more than 12 million lightyears away. It is partially obscured by dark bands of dust caused by the collision of two galaxies.

Irregular Dwarf Galaxy IC 1613

Credit: DES/DOE/Fermilab/NCSA and CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Acknowledgments: Image processing: DES, Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Mahdi Zamani and Davide de Martin

The Dark Energy Survey has found several new dwarf galaxies and used the data to limit how big potential dark matter particles could be. This irregular dwarf galaxy, IC 1613, is about 2.4 million lightyears away and contains around 100 million stars. Dwarf galaxies are considered small and faint by astronomical standards; for comparison, our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to contain between 100 and 400 billion stars.

Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)

Credit: Rob Morgan, Dark Energy Survey

The Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) is a planetary nebula about 650 lightyears from Earth. It is shown here extending over several of the Dark Energy Camera’s CCDs. Planetary nebulae, so named because they appeared round and sharp-edged like planets, are actually the remains of stars. Here, a dying star has ejected its outer layers, leaving a small white dwarf surrounded by gas. In billions of years, our own sun will experience a similar fate.

Sculptor Galaxy

Credit: Dark Energy Survey

The spiral Sculptor Galaxy is about 11 million lightyears away. It’s one of more than 500 million galaxies imaged by the Dark Energy Survey across 5000 square degrees of sky. To optimize observations, DES used automated software to point the camera and capture exposures. The software could factor in what part of the sky was overhead, weather conditions, moonlight and which areas had been recently imaged.

Elliptical Galaxy NGC 474

Credit: DES/DOE/Fermilab/NCSA & CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Acknowledgments: Image processing: DES, Jen Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Mahdi Zamani and Davide de Martin

The wispy shells around the elliptical galaxy NGC 474 (center) are actually hundreds of millions of stars. To the left is a spiral galaxy, and in the background, there are thousands of other, more distant galaxies — visible in this zoomable version. DECam images contain vast amounts of information; each one is about a gigabyte in size. The Dark Energy Survey would take a few hundred images per session, producing up to 2.5 terabytes of data in a single night.

Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1365

Credit: Dark Energy Survey

The Dark Energy Camera captured the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in its very first photographs in 2012. The galaxy sits in the Fornax cluster, about 60 million lightyears from Earth. This close-up comes from the camera’s much wider field of view, which you can explore in the interactive DECam viewer.

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