When most people think of astronomy, they picture the lone astronomer peering into a long, tubular telescope, staring at a single star or galaxy (while smoking a pipe). While that type of astronomical research is still done (without the pipe), the Dark Energy Survey uses a very different method. The DES project involves more than 120 collaborating scientists from 23 organizations who have banded together to survey a large portion of the sky visible from the southern hemisphere using state-of-the-art equipment. The survey nature of DES is driven by its science requirements which require information about a large number of galaxies at the most distant reaches of the viewable universe. The DES will catalog the sky in a 5000 square degree area over 525 nights of viewing using the new Dark Energy Camera (DECam) mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, perched high in the Chilean Andes. It will record information on over 300 million galaxies, most so faint that their light is around 1 million times fainter than the dimmest star that can be seen with the naked eye. Some of these galaxies are so distant that the light we see from them will have left the galaxy when the universe was less than half its current age.
To provide the maximum amount of information to the probe of dark energy, DES's survey area is selected to overlap with other sky surveys that can provide additional data about the galaxies viewed. These surveys include the South Pole Telescope (SPT), Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Vista Hemisphere Survey (VHS).