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Mapping the skies with Blue Waters

Speed read
  • First year of DES data released
  • Results rival measuring precision of orbiting Planck instruments
  • Data verifies dark matter makes up a quarter of the mass of the universe

Space is filled with an unseen dark energy.

So confirm new measurements from data processed by the Dark Energy Survey Data Management (DESDM) project at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

Seeing the Beginning of Time takes viewers on a visually-compelling journey through deep space and time. The 50-minute, 4K science documentary features Felipe Menanteau and colleagues from the Dark Energy Survey as they learn how dark matter has shaped our universe. Courtesy NCSA.

Hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) the DESDM data verifies the theory that 26 percent of the universe is in the form of mysterious dark matter.

Dark energy makes up 70 percent of the universe’s contents, and is causing the accelerating expansion of the universe.

"NCSA recognized many years ago the key role that advanced computing and data management would have in astronomy," says  NCSA Director Bill Gropp. "We are thrilled with the results of this collaboration between the UIUC campus and our partners at Fermilab and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)." 

The new results come from data from the first year of observations of the Dark Energy Survey (DES) in 2013 and will be released online. These measurements of the amount and distribution of dark matter in the present-day cosmos were made with a precision that, for the first time, rivals that of measurements of the early universe captured by the European Space Agency's orbiting Planck observatory.

<strong>What's the matter? </strong> Map of dark matter made from gravitational lensing measurements of 26 million galaxies in the Dark Energy Survey. Red regions have more dark matter than average, blue regions less dark matter. Courtesy Chihway Chang.

The new DES result is close to predictions made from the Planck measurements of the distant past, allowing scientists to see the current structure of the universe as clearly as they can see its infancy, and understand more about the ways the universe has evolved over its 14 billion years.

NCSA leads data management for the DES project with support from the US National Science Foundation (NSF), receiving large volumes of observations over high-speed networks from the telescope in Chile and using the Blue Waters supercomputer and Illinois Campus Cluster Program to review, process and release the data products to the public and scientific community.

"These results are a major milestone in observational cosmology," says Gilbert Holder, theoretical astrophysicist and cosmologist at the UIUC. "The backbone of all of these analyses is the data processing; without a good pipeline for managing these massive amounts of data, none of the science gets done."

NCSA, along with Fermilab and the NOAO are the founding institutions for the DES. The DES project is a pathfinder for the next generation of surveys, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

"It has been a long, hard road to develop and deploy the DESDM," says Nigel Sharp, Program Officer at the NSF for both DESDM and the LSST, "but these excellent results make it all worthwhile."

DES is a collaborative effort of more than 400 scientists from 26 institutions in an ongoing five-year effort to map the Southern hemisphere. When completed, DES will map 300 million galaxies and tens of thousands of galaxy clusters.

Read the original NCSA article here.

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