Dark Energy

Dark Energy

In 1998, scientists discovered that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, causing them to reconsider their models for the formation of the universe. In order to explain their observations, cosmologists have to assume that 3/4 of the universe is filled with mass and energy that cannot be observed through traditional means. This 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' has revolutionized cosmology. WFIRST will contribute to our understanding of the nature of dark energy by addressing two questions:

Is cosmic acceleration caused by a new energy component or by the breakdown of General Relativity (GR) on cosmological scales?
If the cause is a new energy component, is its energy density constant in space and time, or has it evolved over the history of the universe?

WFIRST will conduct 3 different types of surveys in order to answer these questions.

WFIRST will make an order of magnitude step forward in dark energy studies by combining these surveys and minimizing uncertainties in measurement techniques.

High Latitude Spectroscopic Survey
Type Ia Supernovae (SNe) Survey
High Latitude Imaging Survey

The High Latitude Spectroscopic Survey will measure accurate distances and positions of a very large number of galaxies. By measuring the changes in the distribution of galaxies, the evolution of dark energy over time can be determined. The High Latitude Survey will measure the growth of large structure of the universe, testing theory of Einstein's General Relativity.

Type Ia Supernovae (SNe) Survey uses type Ia SNe as "standard candles" to measure absolute distances. Patches of the sky are monitored to discover new supernovae and measure their light curves and spectra. Measuring the distance to and redshift of the SNe provides another means of measuring the evolution of dark energy over time, providing a cross-check with the high latitude surveys.

High Latitude Imaging Survey will measure the shapes and distances of a very large number of galaxies and galaxy clusters. The shapes of very distant galaxies are distorted by the bending of light as it passes more nearby mass concentrations. These distortions are measured and used to infer the three-dimensional mass distribution in the Universe. This survey will determine both the evolution of dark energy over time as well as provide another independent measurement of the growth of large structure of the universe.

Goddard Space Flight Center