UWA will partner with leading Australian and European institutions to unlock two of the most compelling mysteries in contemporary physics.
The University will support the operations of the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) in New South Wales and the European Southern Observatory’s 4 Metre Optical Spectroscopic Telescope (4MOST) in northern Chile, in their investigations into the galaxy distribution.
Professor Simon Driver, Senior Principal Research Fellow from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, says the work will focus on collecting detailed measurements of the 3D distribution of millions of galaxies.
“This information will directly support the science programs of upcoming NASA and ESA space missions, as well as helping lift the lid on one of the most compelling mysteries in physics today – what are dark matter and dark energy?” he says.
Although dark matter cannot be seen directly, Simon says it is thought to account for roughly 27 per cent of the Universe
“This is compared to ordinary matter making up just 5 per cent, and the remaining 68 per cent is attributed to dark energy.
“Although dark matter itself is invisible, we can see its gravitational effect through the creation of strongly clustered patterns and groupings in the galaxy distribution.
“Without it, galaxies would be more uniformly distributed throughout the Universe and the lace-like structure less apparent,” he says.
Within these international partnerships, UWA will lead studies investigating how patterns in the galaxy distribution have evolved over the past eight billion years, and determining the finer secondary structures embedded within the nearby galaxy distribution.
“These patterns, their evolution, and fine detail, are driven almost entirely by the underlying dark matter,” he says.
These partnerships involve several Australian and European universities and the optical spectra for more than 30 million galaxies will be measured over the next decade. UWA’s critical contribution will be to develop the software pipeline needed to extract the distance measurements from the spectra.
“It’s a really exciting project to be part of and another demonstration of how UWA is contributing to global astronomy research,” Simon says.
Image: The Anglo-Australian Telescope has a mirror 3.9 m in diameter, which makes it the largest optical (visible light) telescope in Australia. Credit: Ángel R. López Sánchez, Australian Astronomical Observatory