Is an invisible, undetectable force tearing the universe apart? The South Pole Telescope is scanning the skies for signs of dark energy to help pinpoint the cause of cosmic expansion. The answers it provides could allow us to better explain the origin of the universe and its ultimate fate.
Earlier this week I pondered whether dark energy is just a new version of an outdated theory, but a team of astronomers in Antarctica is doing the hard work of trying to find out. The South Pole Telescope (SPT) uses 1,000 advanced optical sensors to peer at distant galaxy clusters looking for subtle variations in the cosmic background radiation. Those variations will give scientists a better idea of the structure of the universe, and whether or not dark energy is part of it.
The SPT is the largest Antarctic telescope. Despite the frigid cold of the region, the optics are further shielded from background heat by being chilled to a temperature not far from absolute zero. Photo by: The University of Chicago.