March 17, 2014
Astronomers Discover The Earliest Echoes Of The Big Bang
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Astronomers publishing a paper in the journal Nature say they have found the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through the early Universe during the inflation period.
Scientists using the NASA-developed detector technology on the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole found the strongest confirmation yet of cosmic inflation theories, which say the universe expanded by 100 trillion trillion times in less than the blink of an eye.
"Operating the latest detectors in ground-based and balloon-borne experiments allows us to mature these technologies for space missions and, in the process, make discoveries about the universe," Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director in Washington, said in a statement.
Scientists have been looking for more evidence for the inflation period in the form of gravitational waves, which are produced by a characteristic swirly pattern in polarized light, called “B-mode” polarization.
"Small, quantum fluctuations were amplified to enormous sizes by the inflationary expansion of the universe. We know this produces another type of waves called density waves, but we wanted to test if gravitational waves are also produced," project co-leader James Bock of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement.
The team attempted to detect B-mode polarization by pulling together top experts in the field, developing revolutionary technology and traveling to the best observing site on Earth at the South Pole. They were able to produce compelling evidence for the B-mode signal and the strongest support yet for cosmic inflation. The scientists did this by using superconducting detectors.
"Our technology combines the properties of superconductivity with tiny structures that can only be seen with a microscope. These devices are manufactured using the same micro-machining process as the sensors in cellphones and Wii controllers," Anthony Turner, who makes these devices using specialized fabrication equipment at JPL's Microdevices Laboratory, said in a statement.
The astronomers developed a unique array of multiple detectors similar to pixels in a digital camera. The detector system operates at just 0.45 degrees Fahrenheit above absolute zero, which is minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.
"This extremely challenging measurement required an entirely new architecture," said Bock. "Our approach is like taking a camera and building it on a printed circuit board."
This study not only helps confirm that the universe inflated dramatically, but provides theorists with the first clues about exotic forces that drove space and time apart.
Image Below: The BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole used a specialized array of superconducting detectors to capture polarized light from billions of years ago. (FULL IMAGE) Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech