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Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument Creates Largest 3D Map of Universe

In May 2021, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) situated on the four-meter Mayall Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, begun capturing and studying the light from tens of millions of galaxies and other objects in the universe.

The results from a full year of observations, released earlier this month, are mind-blowing: DESI has created the largest 3D map of the universe ever made, measuring how fast the universe has expanded over the last 11 billion years. This is the first time that scientists have measured the expansion history of the young universe with such precision.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) is mounted on the Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Credit: KPNO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld

Understanding how our universe has evolved is key to determining the properties of dark energy, the likely culprit for its accelerated expansion, and deciphering whether this force is weakening over time.

“We are incredibly proud of the data, which have produced world-leading cosmology results and are the first to come out of the new generation of dark energy experiments,” says Michael Levi, DESI director and a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

In DESI's 3D map of our universe, Earth is at the center of this thin slice. In the magnified section, we see the underlying structure of matter in our universe. Credit: Claire Lamman/DESI collaboration; custom colormap package by cmastro

Ten years ago, one of the first grants ever awarded by the Heising-Simons Foundation’s Science program supported the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to grind and polish two long-lead-time lenses for DESI, placed on the Mayall Telescope. A year later, we invested another $2.5 million to ensure the timely acquisition of nine spectrographs for this instrument, which allowed DESI to remain on production schedule. The significant milestone achieved this month thanks to DESI proves that, while the journey toward scientific discovery is often long and difficult, the payoff can reshape our very understanding of the universe.

Find more information on the first results from DESI in Berkeley Lab’s announcement.

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