We start the night’s work early with an inter-continental tele-conference before dinner. After dinner, we prepare the software and telescope until sunset, when the hunt begins. Working through the night (and through a few pots of coffee and bags of cookies), we emerge a few hundred images closer to understanding dark energy and its effects on the celestial objects deep in the night sky. Just after sunrise, we hit the hay, but our minds often keep crunching numbers or sifting puzzles that arose during our observations, as the work from our night bleeds into our dreamscape.
The Dark Energy Survey recently embarked on a five-year mission to better understand the universe. It’s not a starship, though, it’s an international collaboration using the Blanco telescope in Chile to study the effects of dark energy on the evolution of the universe through a variety of probes — supernovae, baryon acoustic oscillations, weak gravitational lensing, and counts of galaxy clusters.
Dark Energy Detectives is a blog that accompanies the project, and it’s well worth reading to get a sense for what it’s like to do modern astronomy. (Hat tip Nick Suntzeff.) The entries are engaging and well-written, mostly by Brian Nord from Fermilab. We’ve progressed quite a bit since Galileo’s time; we no longer peer through the eyepiece and sketch what we see. Actually there’s not much peering through eyepieces at all, it’s all done by electronics. But you still need to stay up through the night and coax the telescope through it’s targets. And I’m sure Galileo enjoyed more than a few cups of espresso and bags of biscotti along the way.