Mapping the universe and understanding dark matter in the south Okanagan

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Canada’s newest and largest telescope was fired up Thursday at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in the south Okanagan.

The telescope collects radio waves created billions of years ago in billions of distant galaxies.

The data is analyzed by a custom built super-computer capable of performing seven quadrillion multiplication problems in one second.

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) will allow scientists to attempt to make the largest three dimensional map of the universe ever created.

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And through that, they’ll try to gain a greater understanding of mysterious dark energy which was discovered in the 1990’s and fills almost 70 per cent of the universe.

“It doesn’t work like anything else we’re familiar with, matter or light or any standard components that make up our model of physics, our model of how the universe works,” says Keith Vanderlinde of the University of Toronto. “It’s different, it seems to play with gravity in a strange way.”

That may be the reason universe expansion is speeding up, and not slowing down, as scientists would expect.

“It’s like throwing a ball in the air and having it fly away from earth instead of falling back to earth,” says Gary Hinshaw of the University of BC. “The universe is acting like that gravitationally and we’re trying to understand why.”

The scientists say what they learn from CHIME will have practical applications in the future.

“It’s going to lead to something, we don’t really know what,” says Vanderlinde. “It’s going to be something we’ll be able to leverage. Mankind should be able to take advantage of this somehow.”

CHIME was six years in the making at a cost of about $11 million.

“We’re very happy to have this available to us and it’s a real boon I think for Canada,” says Hinshaw.

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