The recent discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate has profoundly affected physics. If the universe were gravity-dominated then it should be decelerating. These contrary results suggest a new form of “dark energy”—some kind of repulsive force—is driving the universe. To get a grasp of dark energy, it is extremely important that scientists get the most accurate measurements possible of Type Ia supernovae. These are specific types of exploring stars with exceptional luminosity that allow astronomers to determine distances and the acceleration rate at different distances. At the moment, the reality of the accelerating universe remains controversial because of possible errors in measuring these objects.
These concerns are being addressed with a comprehensive study of both Type Ia and II supernovae in the nearby universe with a long-term program called the Carnegie Supernova Project (CSP). The goal is to obtain highly calibrated optical/near-infrared light curves—measurements of the light intensity of these objects over time—and their chemical signatures for over 200 Type~Ia and Type~II supernovae. The CSP will take advantage of the unique resources available to Carnegie researchers at the Las Campanas Observatory with guaranteed access to some 300 nights per year of observations on the Swope 1-m and the du Pont 2.5-m telescopes.
The supernova project is observationally intensive, not just requiring many nights of telescope time, but extensive data reduction, analysis, and interpretation as well. To ensure that an army of researchers are available there is a mentoring program for undergraduate and graduate-level students from within a broad and diverse pool of young people within California, and at universities in Arizona, Toronto, and Chile. These students, with the postdoctoral fellows involved in this endeavor, will be involved in front-line research using first-class facilities. For more see http://csp.obs.carnegiescience.edu/