From July 1994 to December 1999, the MACHO project, led by Penn astrophysicist Charles Alcock, had dedicated use of the 50-inch reflector at Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Australia. The project was a high-tech hunt for big chunks of dark matter (MAssive Compact Halo Objects) surrounding our galaxy, the Milky Way. "There's a tremendous amount of dark matter out there," says Alcock. "In fact, most of the matter in the universe is dark." Many of the project's important discoveries came from observations of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy orbiting inside the Milky Way's dark-matter halo. The cloud can only be viewed from the southern hemisphere.
The big telescope has no eyepiece. Two large digital cameras and a computer
system to acquire and process the data performed the "observation."
The MACHO Project pioneered the automated collection of astronomical information,
and MACHO scientists wrote the software to manage and analyze the data.
"We collected so much data we can't look at it," says Alcock,
"not all the astronomers in the world can look at it." The Penn
cybernaut is now working on a new project to develop the technology of
analysis that will allow future astronomers to conduct virtual observationto
"look" at all the dataof the expanding cyber universe.