DOE to start building a tool that will 3D map the universe

DESI's construction will begin next year.

Joe Silber/Berkeley Lab

Next year, the Department of Energy will start building the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which will 3D map millions of galaxies across the universe. The agency-backed project has passed "Critical Decision 3" almost a year after it went through the second phase of approval. That means DOE has OK'd its construction and will provide the funding needed to finish manufacturing its camera's 5,000 10-inch-long cylindrical robots. See that pizza slice-like contraption in the image above? It's one of the camera's ten "petals." Each hole in a petal houses a robot, and the ten petals will carry a total of 5,000. All those machines will point fiber-optic cables to the sky to gather light from distant worlds.

Part of the funding will also go to coating six million-dollar lenses with antireflective material to improve their transparency. The team will build 10 spectrographs to measure the wavelengths of incoming light, as well. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the organization managing the project, the light that comes in will tell us how fast galaxies and stars are moving away from us. By obtaining that info, we'll be able to solve some of the mysteries surrounding dark energy -- the invisible force believed to occupy every inch of the universe, pushing things apart and accelerating its expansion.

Daniel Eisenstein, a DESI spokesperson from Harvard University, explained:

"The DESI map of galaxies will reveal patterns that result from the interplay of pressure and gravity in the first 400,000 years after the Big Bang. We'll be using these subtle fingerprints to study the expansion history of the universe."

DESI will be installed 6,880 feet above the ground, on top of the Mayall Telescope that's located at the highest peak of Arizona's Quinlan Mountains. It will take some time before it's ready, but if all goes well, it will start observing the universe in January 2019.