The latest, greatest hunt for dark energy has begun, with a massive camera installed on a Chilean mountaintop returning the first of millions of photographs that should help astronomers learn more about the strange forces driving our universe's evolution.

The photos were released Sept. 12 by the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration, operators of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, the most powerful astronomical imager ever built.

"It works like other digital cameras, only it's much larger, much more sensitive, and mounted on a large telescope," said astronomer Josh Frieman of the University of Chicago, the Dark Energy Survey's director.

"We're using it to get a much better measurement of cosmic expansion in the universe," Frieman continued. "We're going to measure the evolution of structure in the universe. And the way to do both those things is to do a really big survey of the sky."

Over the next five years, the camera, set inside the Blanco telescope in the arid mountains of Chile's high-altitude Atacama desert, where stars shine with a clarity seen in few other places on Earth, will photograph no fewer than 300 million galaxies.