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UMaine Astronomy Professor, Grad Student to Travel to Chile

A University of Maine astronomy professor and graduate student will travel to Chile in July to spend one night of observation at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, east of the city La Serena.

The observatory is home to the newly developed Dark Energy Camera or DECam; the only one of it’s kind. The DECam is part of a 4-meter diameter Victor M. Blanco Telescope, which a few years ago was the largest in South America. The DECam is a set of 62 cameras totaling 570 megapixels.

David Batuski, a physics professor, and Andrej Favia, his graduate student, were allotted one night of observation with the telescope on July 2. The highly competitive proposal application process accepts about one in eight proposals.

Batuski and Favia will spend about four hours looking at two superclusters of galaxies in the search for dark matter, what Batuski calls “one of the greatest mysteries of cosmology right now.”

Dark matter makes up 27 percent of the universe’s content. All observed ordinary matter adds up to 5 percent, while dark energy accounts for 68 percent, according to NASA.gov.

Dark matter doesn’t generate or interact with light, making it only observable through deduction of other observations of its gravitational effects.

According to Batuski, the effects of dark matter have been observed on the small scale — seen as galaxies and clusters of galaxies with too much mass. It has also been observed on its largest scale — the entire universe.

Batuski and Favia’s research will attempt to observe dark matter on a medium scale — roughly 40 million light years — the first of its kind to their knowledge.

With only one night of observation Batuski and Favia are excited, but most of all are hoping for clear weather.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

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