Reuters/ NASA
Off World

5000 Minirobots Are Being Deployed to Map the Universe

They might be small, but they're mighty!

Ramon PerezAugust 16th 2016

For the longest time, mankind has been navigating the unknown in search of the answers to a slew of never-ending questions. Unfortunately, one fact remains: many questions are still left unsolved– including ones about our place in the universe.

A few of the 5,000 close-packed robotic positioners that place the ends of optical fibers to collect the light from a single galaxy or quasar. The blue circle represents a patch of sky with numerous astronomical targets reachable by a single robot. In seconds it can rotate, extend, or retract to place its fiber in position with millionths of a meter precision. (Image R. Lafever, DESI Collaboration)
A few of the 5,000 close-packed robots. R. Lafever, DESI Collaboration

But now, under the command of scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL), an army of 5,000 tiny robots will boldly go “where no map has gone before.”

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has received the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) approval to move from the design phase to construction of 5,000 10 cm-long, finger-width robots which will take on the job of aiming fiber-optic cables at galaxies, stars, and quasars to produce an enormous 3D map of the sky.

These cylindrical robots, which will begin making observations in 2019, will keep on firing fiber-optic cables for five years. According to a press release, this technology will give scientists new insight into  galaxy evolution, dark matter, and the nature of dark energy that is driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.

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