How 5,000 Pencil-Size Robots May Solve the Mysteries of the Universe

By Tereza Pultarova, Live Science Contributor

A 45-year-old telescope is going to get a high-tech upgrade that will enable it to search for answers to the most perplexing questions in astronomy, including the existence of dark energy, a hypothetical invisible force that might be driving the expansion of the universe.

The Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope in Arizona closed earlier this week to prepare for the installation of a 9-ton device that will feature 5,000 pencil-size robots aiming fiber-optic sensors at distant galaxies. Every 20 minutes, the swiveling robots will re position to allow the instrument — called the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) — to capture a new portion of the sky. Ten extremely powerful instruments called spectrographs will then analyze the light from the distant objects captured by the sensors and create what has been described as the largest and most detailed 3D map of the universe to date.