Galactic Ballet captured with a state-of-the-art dark powered camera

The pair of interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 are the focus of this image from the Dark Energy Camera, the latest wide-field imaging on the 4-meter Victor M Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, NSF’s NOIRLab program. NGC 1512 merged with its smaller galactic neighbor 400 million years ago, and this ongoing interaction has unleashed waves of star formation and distorted both galaxies. Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF NOIRLab), M. Zamani & Dee Martin (NOIRLab by NSF)

The DOE-funded dark energy camera at NSF’s NOIRLab in Chile captures a pair of galaxies performing a gravitational pull.

A pair of interacting galaxies NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 are the focus of this image from the Dark Energy Camera, made by the US Department of Energy, the latest 570-megapixel wide-field imaging on the Víctor M Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo International Observatory, a program Affiliated with NSF NOIRLab. NGC 1512 merged with its smaller galactic neighbor 400 million years ago, and this ongoing interaction has unleashed waves of star formation.

The barred spiral galaxy NGC 1512 (left) and its smaller neighbor NGC 1510 in this observation (image at the top of the article) were captured using the 4 meter Víctor M. Blanco Telescope. This image reveals not only the complex internal structure of NGC 1512, but also the galaxy’s thin outer tendrils extending and seemingly enveloping its young companion. The starry stream of light connecting the two galaxies is evidence of the gravitational interaction between them – a majestic and graceful connection that has lasted for 400 million years. The gravitational interaction between NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 affected the rate of star formation in both galaxies and distorted their shapes. Finally, NGC 1512 and NGC 1510 will merge into a single larger galaxy – an extended example of galactic evolution.

Larger portion of NGC 1512 image. Credit: Dark Energy Survey / DOE / FNAL / DECam / CTIO / NOIRLab / NSF / AURA, Image processing: TA Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage / NSF NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory / NSF NOIRLab) ), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF NOIRLab)

These interacting galaxies are located in the direction of the constellation Horologium in the southern celestial hemisphere, about 60 million light-years from Earth. The wide field of view of this observation reveals not only the entangled galaxies, but also their starry surroundings. The frame is full of bright stars in the foreground[{“ attribute=““>Milky Way and is set against a backdrop of even more distant galaxies.

The image was taken with one of the highest-performance wide-field imaging instruments in the world, the Dark Energy Camera (DECam). This instrument is perched atop the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope and its vantage point allows it to collect starlight reflected by the telescope’s 4-meter-wide (13-foot-wide) mirror, a massive, aluminum-coated, and precisely shaped piece of glass roughly the weight of a semi truck. After passing through the optical innards of DECam — including a corrective lens nearly a meter (3.3 feet) across — starlight is captured by a grid of 62 charge-coupled devices (CCDs). These CCDs are similar to the sensors found in ordinary digital cameras but are far more sensitive, and allow the instrument to create detailed images of faint astronomical objects such as NGC 1512 and NGC 1510.

Galaxy NGC 1512 Wider

An even wider crop of the NGC 1512 image. Credit: Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF’s NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab), M. Zamani & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

Large astronomical instruments such as DECam are custom-built masterpieces of optical engineering, requiring enormous effort from astronomers, engineers, and technicians before the first images can be captured. Funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE) with contributions from international partners, DECam was built and tested at DOE’s Fermilab, where scientists and engineers built a “telescope simulator” — a replica of the upper segments of the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope — that allowed them to thoroughly test DECam before shipping it to Cerro Tololo in Chile.

DECam was created to conduct the Dark Energy Survey (DES), a six-year (2013-2019) observational campaign involving more than 400 scientists from 25 institutions in seven countries. This international collaboration aims to map hundreds of millions of galaxies, discover thousands of supernovae, and discover subtle patterns of cosmic structure – all to provide much-needed detail about the mysterious dark energy that’s accelerating the expansion of the universe. Today, DECam is still used in programs by scientists around the world and continues its legacy of cutting-edge research.

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