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Hobby-Eberly Upgrade Allows for Next-Level Astronomy, Ironically Seeing Things in Blind Study

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The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas is a powerful instrument that has been successfully used in the study of our galaxy as well as others, find planets orbiting around other stars, measure the acceleration of the universe, and the rotation of individual galaxies. And now, after a $40 million upgrade, it took part in the Hobby–Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), which will give observers the first data to allow the narrowing of the list of explanations for dark energy.

Hobby-Eberly Upgrade Allows for Next-Level Astronomy, Ironically Seeing Things in Blind Study

Photo: Facebook/SPACE

On April 8, scientists dedicated the newly primed telescope, completing the multi-million-dollar upgrade and commencing with getting down to the business of studying dark energy. The HETDEX experiment is a step in a new direction as far as astronomy is concerned. The normal progression for this study is to point a telescope a selected object and study it. But thanks to today’s computer possibilities, HETDEX will scan the sky and return amounts of data which are incomprehensible by man, allowing scientists to then analyze the data for the details they require in the study, in massive quantities.

Hobby-Eberly Upgrade Allows for Next-Level Astronomy, Ironically Seeing Things in Blind Study

Photo: Facebook/IM Photography

The intent with a blind survey such as this is that the process will allow for the discovery of things that astronomers never even knew to look for in the first place. Computers will take over surveillance of the sky and direct to astronomers those things that are worthy of further study. Fast becoming a standard activity in the world of astronomy, such projects are returning discoveries that are amazing and yet still mysterious. To make the study of dark energy possible, Hobby-Eberly needed to be upgraded to the ability of studying one million galaxies which are anywhere from nine to 11 billion light-years away. To do so, they expanded the view of the telescope’s mirrors (which are designed to exacting standards) and created an instrument called Virus, which has 35,000 optical fibers sending the light from the universe to a spectrograph. From here it gets split into wavelengths of data that determine how far away a particular galaxy is and at what rate of speed it’s traveling away from the Earth. This expansion also makes it possible to not only study dark energy, but also star information, dark matter, supermassive black holes, and the age of stars from other galaxies.

Hobby-Eberly Upgrade Allows for Next-Level Astronomy, Ironically Seeing Things in Blind Study

Photo: Facebook/Albert Steelhammer

To enable such capabilities, the scientists at Hobby-Eberly have turned to the Texas Advanced Computing Center. All data retrieved by the HETDEX team will go straight from the telescope to the computing center, where it will be auto-processed in close to real-time and stored. They believe their upgrade will be fully functional for the commencement of the survey of dark energy beginning in late summer of this year, and are looking forward to the resulting data on objects that they never knew the existence of because they never knew to look for them. The artful capture from this type of blind study, which in under as many decades as millions of dollars it took to get here would have been deemed “hokum,” is that the object you haven’t thought of studying before is found to be worthy of review based on its existence, which didn’t have to be proven to be of importance in the first place. It opens up a truly broader way of achieving the study of astronomy and its resulting data – one that may open intergalactic doors of opportunity man hasn’t even begun to comprehend.

Sources:

Wired

Wikipedia