An army of 5,000 tiny robots has been given a giant mission.
Under the command of scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), the robot soldiers will peer 11 billion years back in time.
What they see could help us solve some of the biggest (and oldest) riddles in the universe.
And the mission just got the greenlight from the Department of Energy to begin construction.
To boldly go ‘where no map has gone before’
It’s all part of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), which will be built at the Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson and begin making observations in 2019.
For five years, the cylindrical robots, which are 10 inches long and about the width of your finger, will point fiber-optic cables at the light of millions of galaxies to make an enormous 3D map of the sky.
It will be a map that goes “where no map has gone before,” David Schlegel, a co-project scientist for DESI, said in an LBL press release. It will focus on a third of the sky, adding an extra dimension to our current 2D maps.
According to the press release, the map will shine light on the properties of the galaxies, stars, and quasars, and most importantly, how quickly they are moving away from us. It will give scientists new insight into things like galaxy evolution, dark matter, and the nature of dark energy that is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.
“This is a great time to be an astroparticle physicist. DOE’s program of building new instruments like DESI will provide the data that will let us take the next step in understanding the formation of our universe,” said Brenna Flaugher, co-project scientist for DESI, in the release.