Telescope will survey universe expansion rate


How quickly is the universe expanding?

A group led by an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University plans to design a telescope to answer that question.

Charles L. Bennett's team will spend a $1.5 million federal grant during the next two years designing an infrared space telescope capable of conducting the largest survey yet of the universe.

The Advanced Dark Energy Physics Telescope would measure light from distant galaxies as a way to study dark energy - the mysterious force that is pushing galaxies away from each other and speeding up the expansion of the universe. Dark energy is believed to make up about two-thirds of the matter in the universe.

By using infrared light, the researchers hope to measure how far apart galaxies are from one another and the amount of dark energy pushing them apart.

"We're going to look at the entire sky and measure 100 million galaxies at a time. It'll be the largest survey of the universe ever made," said Adam Riess, a member of the team based at the Space Telescope Science Institute here and one of the scientists credited with discovering dark energy in 1998.

NASA and Department of Energy officials are jointly overseeing plans for a $600 million space telescope to study dark energy. The grant is the first step in a competitive process to determine which scientific team wins funding for its proposal.

"It's sort of like we've made a round of playoffs before NASA decides who gets to go to the Super Bowl," Riess said.

As a first step, the agencies have awarded grants to Bennett's group, as well as to groups led by Saul Perlmutter, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and Tod Lauer of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Ariz.

The groups are expected to complete their proposals during the next two years, said Paul Hertz, chief scientist of NASA's science mission directorate. NASA and the Energy Department will use the proposals to design a dark energy space mission and hold another competition to decide who handles it, Hertz said.

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