|The 5,000 pencil-size robots will fit snugly inside 10 wedge-shaped petals. Here, one of those wedges is fully stocked with 500 robots, each of which will swivel independently to gather light from a known group of space objects, including distant galaxies. Credit: DESI Collaboration
Topics: Astronomy, Astrophysics, Dark Energy, Space Exploration, Spectrograph, Robotics
A 45-year-old telescope is going to get a high-tech upgrade that will enable it to search for answers to the most perplexing questions in astronomy, including the existence of dark energy, a hypothetical invisible force that might be driving the expansion of the universe.
The Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope in Arizona closed earlier this week to prepare for the installation of a 9-ton device that will feature 5,000 pencil-size robots aiming fiber-optic sensors at distant galaxies.
Every 20 minutes, the swiveling robots will reposition to allow the instrument — called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) — to capture a new portion of the sky. Ten extremely powerful instruments called spectrographs will then analyze the light from the distant objects captured by the sensors and create what has been described as the largest and most detailed 3D map of the universe to date.
"We started with a conceptual design for the instrument in 2010," Joseph Silber, a DESI project engineer who works at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, said in a statement. "It's based on science that was done on the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) instrument. But it's all done robotically instead of manually."
How 5,000 Pencil-Size Robots May Solve the Mysteries of the Universe, Tereza Pultarova, Space.com