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Star trails over a telescope

We’re part of an international team that has helped to create the most detailed 3-D map of the universe ever.

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) has capped off the first seven months of its survey run by smashing through all previous records for three-dimensional galaxy surveys.

Durham is a key partner of DESI and helped design and build the new telescope instrument.

Although it is already producing unprecedented outcomes, DESI is only about ten per cent through its five-year mission.

Dark energy

Once completed, its phenomenally detailed 3-D map will give scientists a better understanding of dark energy – the mysterious substance that accounts for 70 per cent of the content in the universe and is speeding up its expansion.

This will help scientists determine if the universe will expand forever, collapse in on itself in a reverse Big Bang or rip itself apart.


DESI features new optics that increase the telescope’s field of view and include 5,000 robotically controlled optical fibres.

Led by Durham, the fibre-optic system will split light from objects in space such as galaxies, quasars and stars into narrow bands of colour and reveal the chemical make-up of objects as well as information about how far away they are and how fast they are travelling.


DESI is also helping our scientists reveal the secrets of quasars, a particularly bright variety of galaxies that are among the most powerful and distant objects known.

The instrument’s data will go 11 billion years back in time, revealing clues about the evolution of quasars and their connection to the formation of galaxies.

Find out more

  • A slice through the 3-D map of galaxies from the completed Sloan Digital Sky Survey (left) and from the first few months of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI; right). The earth is at the centre, with the furthest galaxies plotted at distances of 10 billion light years. Each point represents one galaxy. This preliminary version of the DESI map shows only 400,000 of the 35 million galaxies that will be in the final map. (Credit: D. Schlegel/Berkeley Lab using data from DESI).
  • DESI is an international science collaboration managed by the United States’ Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) with primary funding for construction and operations from the DOE’s Office of Science. It is installed at the Nicholas U Mayall four metre telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.