Dark energy accounts for up to 70% of our Universe, yet, up until about 20 years ago, we didn’t even know it existed.
“The idea that 70% of the universe is something that’s completely foreign to us, that we don’t even understand… that’s amazing to me,” says Keith Vanderlinde, Assistant Professor at the Dunlap Institute and Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.
Prof. Vanderlinde studies the Large Scale Structure of the Universe, which includes dark energy, but the field suffers from lack of data. That’s because the specialized instruments required to study things on such a massive scale have only recently been built.
For most of 2008, Prof. Vanderlinde lived in the Antarctic as a winter-over for the South Pole Telescope (SPT), a new telescope designed to study the Cosmic Microwave background or “the leftover light from the big bang.” At 10 metres, the SPT is the largest telescope ever deployed at the South Pole and provides a powerful new tool to explore dark energy.
Even more recently, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory has teamed up with the University of British Columbia, McGill University, and the University of Toronto for the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). CHIME is a novel radio telescope whose goal is to map more of the cosmos than ever using massive computational power instead of physically steerable dishes.
With better maps of the cosmos and more information, Prof. Vanderlinde and others can begin to probe the mysteries of dark energy and answer fundamental questions about our place in the Universe.
“They are sort of the deepest philosophical questions there are. It’s amazing that we can actually start to tackle them with data,” says Prof. Vanderlinde.