London: Scientists have announced that the world's most powerful 570-megapixel digital camera has captured first images of starlight from eight billion years ago.
The ancient rays have crossed countless distant galaxies to find their way to a mountaintop in Chile where a giant sky mapping machine called the Dark Energy Camera recorded them, the Daily Mail reported.
The light may hold within it the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in physics - why the expansion of the universe is speeding up.
Although dark energy appears to account for about 75 per cent of the energy-mass content of the universe, scientists have no real idea what it is.
The Dark Energy Survey (DES) collaboration has announced that the camera, which took eight years to build by scientists on three continents, has achieved its first light.
The first pictures of the southern sky were taken by the 570-megapixel camera on September 12.
"The achievement of first light through the Dark Energy Camera brings us a step closer to understanding dark energy, one of the biggest mysteries in the whole of physics," Professor Ofer Lahav, of University College London, who heads the UK arm of the consortium, said.
"The deep observations with the DES camera will tell us why the universe is speeding up and if a major shift is required in our understanding of the universe," Lahav said.
The camera, which is roughly the size of a phone booth, is the most powerful survey instrument of its kind, able to see light from over 100,000 galaxies up to 8 billion light years away in each snapshot.
The camera's array of 62 devices have an unprecedented sensitivity to very red light and will allow scientists from around the world to pursue investigations ranging from studies of asteroids in our own Solar System to the understanding of the origins and the fate of the universe.
Scientists will use the new camera to carry out the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken, and will use that data to probe dark energy by studying galaxy clusters, supernovae and the large-scale clumping of galaxies.
"This will be the largest galaxy survey of its kind, and the galaxy shapes and positions will tell us a great deal about the nature of the physical process that we call Dark Energy, but do not currently understand," Professor Will Percival, of Portsmouth University who co-coordinates the galaxy clustering part of the investigation, said.
The Dark Energy Survey is expected to begin in December after the camera is fully tested and will take advantage of the excellent atmospheric conditions in the Chilean Andes to deliver pictures with the sharpest resolution seen in such a wide-field astronomy survey.