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The Whirlpool Galaxy as seen by DESI. Photo: DESI Collaboration

A new telescope instrument saw first light on April 1, a step toward untangling the mystery of dark energy — the invisible, mysterious force thought to drive the expansion of the cosmos.

The big picture: The instrument, called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), is made up of six large lenses that — once fully operational — are expected to help astronomers measure the distances between galaxies in order to clock the expansion of the universe propelled by dark energy.

"DESI is the greatest cosmic cartography experiment we've ever done," Arjun Dey, staff astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona said in a video.

  • "So we're trying to map out where all the galaxies are in the universe out back in time for the last 12 billion years of its history."

DESI's first task was to take a look at the Whirlpool Galaxy, located about 31 million light-years away. This target was chosen as a test to be sure that the lenses were functioning as expected.

How it works: The light taken in by the telescope will be broken up into thousands of colors, allowing scientists to figure out the distances to those galaxies and how quickly they're moving.

  • Astrophysicist Tamara Davis tells Axios that DESI can measure 5,000 galaxies at a time.
  • "By mapping the universe this way, we can measure its expansion rate and how large structures (galaxies and clusters) grow within that expansion. Since these depend on dark energy and dark matter, it means we will be able to measure the properties of the dark components of our universe with unprecedented precision," she says.

What's next: By the end of the year, DESI should be able to measure galactic distances by looking at thousands of light sources instead of just one big picture of the sky.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.