Tag Archives: Dark Energy Survey

Dark Energy Survey First Results: Canonical Cosmology Supported

The Dark Energy Survey (DES) first year results, and a series of papers, were released on August 4, 2017. This is a massive international collaboration with over 60 institutions represented and 200 authors on the paper summarizing initial results. Over 5 years the Dark Energy Survey team plans to survey some 300 million galaxies.

The instrument is the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera installed on the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory 4-meter Blanco Telescope.


Image: DECam imager with CCDs (blue) in place. Credit:

Over 26 million source galaxy measurements from far, far away are included in these initial results. Typical distances are several billion light-years, up to 9 billion light-years. Also included is a sample of 650,000 luminous red galaxies, lenses for the gravitational lensing, and typically these are foreground elliptical galaxies. These are at redshifts < 0.9 corresponding to up to 7 billion light-years.

They use 3 main methods to make cosmological measurements with the sample:

1. The correlations of galaxy positions (galaxy-galaxy clustering)

2. The gravitational lensing of the large sample of background galaxies by the smaller foreground population (cosmic shear)

3. The gravitational lensing of the luminous red galaxies (galaxy-galaxy lensing)

Combining these three methods provides greater interpretive power, and is very effective in eliminating nuisance parameters and systematic errors. The signals being teased out from the large samples are at only the one to ten parts in a thousand level.

They determine 7 cosmological parameters including the overall mass density (including dark matter), the baryon mass density, the neutrino mass density, the Hubble constant, and the equation of state parameter for dark energy. They also determine the spectral index and characteristic amplitude of density fluctuations.

Their results indicate Ωm of 0.28 to a few percent, indicating that the universe is 28% dark matter and 72% dark energy. They find a dark energy equation of state w = – 0.80 but with error bars such that the result is consistent with either a cosmological constant interpretation of w = -1 or a somewhat softer equation of state.

They compare the DES results with those from the Planck satellite for the cosmic microwave background and find they are statistically significant with each other and with the Λ-Cold Dark MatterΛ model (Λ, or Lambda, stands for the cosmological constant). They also compare to other galaxy correlation measurements known as BAO for Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (very large scale galaxy structure reflecting the characteristic scale of sound waves in the pre-cosmic microwave background plasma) and to Type 1a supernovae data.

This broad agreement with Planck results is a significant finding since the cosmic microwave background is at very early times, redshift z = 1100 and their galaxy sample is at more recent times, after the first five billion years had elapsed, with z < 1.4 and more typically when the universe was roughly ten billion years old.

Upon combining with Planck, BAO, and the supernovae data the best fit is Ωm of 0.30 with an error of less than 0.01, the most precise determination to date. Of this, about 0.25 is ascribed to dark matter and 0.05 to ordinary matter (baryons). And the implied dark energy fraction is 0.70.

Furthermore, the combined result for the equation of state parameter is precisely w = -1.00 with only one percent uncertainty.

The figure below is Figure 9 from the DES paper. The figure indicates, in the leftmost column the measures and error bars for the amplitude of primordial density fluctuations, in the center column the fraction of mass-energy density in matter, and in the right column the equation of state parameter w.


The DES year one results for all 3 methods are shown in the first row. The Planck plus BAO plus supernovae combined results are shown in the last row. And the middle row, the fifth row, shows all of the experiments combined, statistically. Note the values of 0.3 and – 1.0 for Ωm and w, respectively, and the extremely small error bars associated with these.

This represents continued strong support for the canonical Λ-Cold Dark Matter cosmology, with unvarying dark energy described by a cosmological constant.

They did not evaluate modifications to general relativity such as Emergent Gravity or MOND with respect to their data, but suggest they will evaluate such a possibility in the future.

References, “Dark Energy Survey Year 1 Results: Cosmological Constraints from Galaxy Clustering and Weak Lensing”, 2017, T. Abbott et al., Wikipedia article on weak gravitational lensing discusses galaxy-galaxy lensing and cosmic shear


Discovery of several dwarf galaxies near the Magellanic Clouds

Dwarf galaxies are, as the name implies, small or even tiny galaxies with much lower mass and luminosity than large galaxies such as our own Milky Way galaxy or the Andromeda galaxy or Triangulum galaxy. The first two galaxies are the dominant members of our Local Group of galaxies, which has over 50 members. While the Milky Way and Andromeda have over 200 billion stars each, most all of the others are much smaller and intrinsically fainter, and thus are considered dwarf galaxies. Around half of these known dwarf galaxies are companions to our Milky Way, and the rest are companions of Andromeda.


Previously known dwarf satellite galaxies around our Milky Way galaxy are shown as blue dots and the 9 new candidates are shown as red dots. Image: Yao-Yuan Mao, Ralf Kaehler, Risa Wechsler (KIPAC/SLAC).

The Dark Energy Survey “powered up” in the second half of 2013. Using the Dark Energy  Camera at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American observatory in Chile, two teams of astronomers have now made a stunning discovery of 9 new dwarf objects in the vicinity of, and gravitationally bound to, our own Milky Way. Three of these are confirmed to be dwarf galaxies. The other six objects are either dwarf galaxies or globular clusters, and further observations will be required to determine how many of these are indeed dwarf galaxies.

These new dwarf galaxies and dwarf galaxy candidates were found in the vicinity of the Magellanic Clouds, in the Southern Hemisphere. Those are themselves the two best known of all dwarf galaxies, but are substantially brighter and larger than these new dwarf galaxy candidates. In fact it is possible, but not certain, that the newly discovered dwarf galaxies have interacted with one or both of the Magellanic Clouds in the past.

This discovery of 3 or more new dwarf galaxies near to our Milky Way, in the range of about 100,000 light-years to 1.2 million light-years away from us, has important implications for our understanding of dark matter and cosmology generally. We know from a wide range of observations, including the latest Planck satellite results, that dark matter is 5 times more common than ordinary matter in the universe.

Dark matter and ordinary matter are distributed differently. Think of dark matter as the scaffolding which controls the overall distribution of matter at large scale. Ordinary matter is thus controlled gravitationally by the dark matter background. But ordinary matter also clumps together at smaller scales because as it collapses (falls into a gravitational potential well) it heats up via frictional processes. Next it radiates away energy, leading to cooling, and thus further collapse. This is how we end up with galaxies and stellar formation.

Large galaxies will be dominated by ordinary matter toward their centers, but by dark matter in their outer regions and halos. Many dwarf galaxies appear to have few stars, as little as only a few thousand, reflecting quite modest amounts of ordinary matter. These galaxies are heavily dominated by dark matter, sometimes 99% or more.

There is a whole theory of galaxy formation based on the growth of dark matter-dominated density perturbations that collapse under their own gravity, even while the universe as a whole is expanding. Ordinary matter is pulled into the regions of high dark matter density, leading to galaxy formation. Low density regions do not collapse, but keep on expanding in,the “Hubble flow”.

Numerical simulations of the growth of these dark matter density perturbations and of galaxy formation suggest there should be large numbers of dwarf galaxies. As we continue to discover more dwarf galaxies in the vicinity of our Milky Way, through the Dark Energy Survey and other experiments, our confidence in our understanding of cosmology and of galactic formation and evolution will continue to grow.

References  – CNET article – Article at University of Cambridge astronomy web site – Article at Fermilab web site (home of the Dark Energy Survey) – Dark Energy Survey web site – S. Koposov, V. Belokurov, G. Torrealba, N. Wyn Evans, ”Beasts of the Southern Wild. Discovery of a large number of Ultra Faint satellites in the vicinity of the Magellanic Clouds”

Dark Energy Survey First Light!

Last month the Dark Energy Survey project achieved first light from its remote location in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The term first light is used by astronomers to refer to the first observation by a new instrument.

And what an instrument this is! It is in fact the world’s most powerful digital camera. This Dark Energy Camera, or DECam, is a 570 Megapixel optical survey camera with a very wide field of view. The field of view is over 2 degrees, which is rather unusual in optical astronomy. And the camera requires special CCDs that are sensitive in the red and infrared parts of the spectrum. This is because distant galaxies have their light shifted toward the red and the infrared by the cosmological expansion. If the galaxy redshift is one,  the light travels for about 8 billion years and the wavelength of light that the DECam detects is doubled, relative to what it was when it was originally emitted.

Dark Energy Camera

Image: DECam, near center of image, is deployed at the focus of the 4-meter Victor M. Blanco optical telescope in Chile (Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

The DECam has been deployed to further our understanding of dark energy through not just one experimental method, but in fact four different methods. That’s how you solve tough problems – by attacking them on multiple fronts.

It’s taken 8 years to get to this point, and there have been some delays, as normal for large projects. But now this new instrument is mounted at the focal plane of the existing 4-meter telescope of the National Science Foundation’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American observatory in Chile. It will begin its program of planned measurements of several hundred million galaxies starting in December after several weeks of testing and calibration. Each image from the camera-telescope combination can capture up to 100,000 galaxies out to distances of up to 8 billion light years. This is over halfway back to the origin of the universe almost 14 billion years ago.

In a previous blog entry I talked about the DES and the 4 methods in some detail. In brief they are based on observations of:

  1. Type 1a supernova (the method used to first detect dark energy)
  2. Very large scale spatial correlations of galaxies separated by 500 million light-years (this experiment is known as Baryon Acoustic Oscillations since the galaxy separations reflect the imprint of sound waves in the very early universe, prior to galaxy formation)
  3. The number of clusters of galaxies as a function of redshift (age of the universe)
  4. Gravitational lensing, i.e. distortion of background images by gravitational effects of foreground clusters in accordance with general relativity

NGC 1365

Image: NGC 1365, a barred spiral galaxy located in the Fornax cluster located 60 million light years from Earth (Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaboration)

What does the Dark Energy Survey team, which has over 120 members from over 20 countries, hope to learn about dark energy? We already have a good handle on its magnitude, at around 73% presently of the universe’s total mass-energy density.

The big issue is does it behave as a cosmological constant or as something more complex? In other words, how does the dark energy vary over time and is there possibly some spatial variation as well? And what is its equation of state, or relationship between its pressure and density?

With a cosmological constant explanation the relationship is Pressure = – Energy_density, a negative pressure, which is necessary in any model of the dark energy, in order for it to drive the accelerated expansion seen for the universe. Current observations from other experiments, especially those measuring the cosmic microwave background, support an equation of state parameter within around 5% of the value -1, as represented in the equation in the previous sentence. This is consistent with the interpretation as a pressure resulting from the vacuum. Dark energy appears also to have a constant or nearly constant density per unit volume of space. It is unlike ordinary matter and dark matter, that both drop in mass density (and thus energy density) as the volume of the universe grows. Thus dark energy becomes ever more dominant over dark matter and ordinary matter as the universe continues to expand.

We can’t wait to see the first publication of results from research into the nature of dark energy using the DECam.

References: – Press release from National Optical Astronomical Observatory on DECam first light – Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory page – WMAP 7 year results on cosmic microwave background