Galactic Ballet captured by state-of-the-art dark energy camera

The pair of interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 take center stage in this image from the Dark Energy Camera, a state-of-the-art wide-field imager on the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory , a program of NSF’s NOIRLab. NGC 1512 has been merging with its smaller galactic neighbor for 400 million years, and this prolonged interaction has triggered waves of star formation and warped both galaxies. Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The DOE-funded dark energy camera at NSF’s NOIRLab in Chile captures a pair of galaxies performing gravitational duo.

The pair of interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 take center stage in this image from the Dark Energy Camera manufactured by the US Department of Energy, a state-of-the-art 570-megapixel wide-field imager on the Víctor M Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, a program of NSF’s NOIRLab. NGC 1512 has been merging with its smaller galactic neighbor for 400 million years, and this prolonged interaction has triggered waves of star formation.

The barred spiral galaxy NGC 1512 (left) and its smaller neighbor NGC 1510 were captured in this observation (image at the top of the article) by the 4-meter Víctor M. Blanco telescope. As well as revealing the complex internal structure of NGC 1512, this image shows the galaxy’s wispy outer tendrils stretching out and seemingly enveloping its tiny companion. The starry stream of light that connects the two galaxies is evidence of the gravitational interaction between them – a majestic and graceful bond that has endured for 400 million years. The gravitational interaction of NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 affected the rate of star formation in both galaxies and distorted their shapes. Eventually, NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 will merge into one larger galaxy – an extended example of galactic evolution.

Galaxy NGC 1512 Wide

A larger crop of image NGC 1512. Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

These interacting galaxies lie in the direction of the constellation Horologium in the southern celestial hemisphere and are approximately 60 million light-years from Earth. The wide field of view of this observation not only shows the intertwined galaxies, but also their starry surroundings. The frame is populated with bright stars in the foreground in the[{” attribute=””>Milky Way and is set against a backdrop of even more distant galaxies.

The image was taken with one of the highest-performance wide-field imaging instruments in the world, the Dark Energy Camera (DECam). This instrument is perched atop the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope and its vantage point allows it to collect starlight reflected by the telescope’s 4-meter-wide (13-foot-wide) mirror, a massive, aluminum-coated, and precisely shaped piece of glass roughly the weight of a semi truck. After passing through the optical innards of DECam — including a corrective lens nearly a meter (3.3 feet) across — starlight is captured by a grid of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs). These CCDs are similar to the sensors found in ordinary digital cameras but are far more sensitive, and allow the instrument to create detailed images of faint astronomical objects such as NGC 1512 and NGC 1510.

Galaxy NGC 1512 Wider

An even wider crop of the NGC 1512 image. 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 & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

Large astronomical instruments such as DECam are custom-built masterpieces of optical engineering, requiring enormous effort from astronomers, engineers, and technicians before the first images can be captured. Funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with contributions from international partners, DECam was built and tested at DOE’s Fermilab, where scientists and engineers built a “telescope simulator” — a replica of the upper segments of the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope — that allowed them to thoroughly test DECam before shipping it to Cerro Tololo in Chile.


DECam was created to conduct the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a six-year (2013-2019) observation campaign involving more than 400 scientists from 25 institutions in seven countries. This international collaborative effort aims to map hundreds of millions of galaxies, detect thousands of supernovae and uncover delicate patterns of cosmic structure – all to provide much-needed details about the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion. of the universe. Today, DECam is still used for programs by scientists around the world, continuing its legacy of cutting-edge science.

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