If you’re interested in astronomy then here is some exciting news. You can now view distant galaxies, in good definition, from your own computer. Peering down a telescope for a faint image is still fun, but new software offers some spectacular images.
Developed by astrophysicists, an “expansion pack” that provides a virtual tour of the universe. This is through a progam called the Sky Viewer tool. The software was released in May 2015; and the new January 2016 update doubles the size of the “searchable universe”. Some 370 million stars and galaxies are now available to view.
The images are drawn from a scientific space-mapping project called dubbed DECaLS (which is an acronym for Dark Energy Camera Legacy Survey). The images were captured by the 520-megapixel Dark Energy Survey Camera (DECam). The project is run by the US, managed at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The aim of DECaLS, Laboratory Manager reports, is to capture some 40 million galaxies and other objects like quasars (luminous sources powered by black holes).
By 2018 even more impressive images will be available. This is when the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) is set to go live. This is located on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. The device will measure dark energy using techniques like baryon acoustic oscillations, so that objects beyond the visible universe can be seen. The end product should be the largest, most detailed 3-D map of the universe ever seen.
In relation to this, a citizen science project called Galaxy Zoo is seeking volunteers to view the images and note things the professional scientists may have missed. With 370 million stars captured so far, there’s a lot to do!