Subatomic Particles Described on the Web
High-Resolution Background-Radiation Observations
Cosmic Background Radiation Homepages
Links to Cosmic Background Radiation Studies
See NASA's site about the structure and evolution of the universe at universe.gsfc.nasa.gov.
From an NSF Press Release, April 29, 2001
Two teams of cosmologists released new findings about the nature of the universe in its infancy. Their spectacular images of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), taken with instruments operating from Antarctica, reveal the strongest evidence to date for the theory of inflation, the leading model for the formation of the universe.
The announcement represented the first release of data from the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI), a 13-element ground-based instrument operating since last year at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. Scientists also released similar results from further analysis of data from the Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics (BOOMERANG) project, obtained in 1998 and first reported last year.
Both analyses, unveiled at the American Physical Society meetings in Washington, D.C., support the model that the universe experienced a tremendous spurt of growth shortly after the Big Bang. Cosmologists believe the structures that formed in the very first moments of the cosmos left their imprint as a very faint pattern of variations in the temperature of the CMB, the radiation left over from the intense heat that filled the embryonic universe during the initial growth spurt. Some 12-15 billion years later, these temperatures have become detectable from Earth with highly sensitive instruments.
"With these new data, inflation looks very strong," said DASI lead scientist John Carlstrom, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago. "It's always been theoretically compelling. Now it's on very solid experimental ground."
Multiple teams supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) have probed the CMB for these minute temperature variations, including the two teams operating from the polar region. Two other teams using instruments in the continental United States also released data.
"This is an outstanding example of how NSF supports multiple scientific projects, leading to rapid, new results," said NSF senior science associate Morris Aizenman. "It took more than a decade to get the initial observations of the cosmic microwave background with the COBE satellite, and in only a few short years, the progress in sharpening those observations has been truly astounding."
The teams used independent methods and two different technologies to obtain detailed observations of the CMB. The observations have provided so much data that new methods had to be invented to analyze them. As the data analyses continue, they are providing precise measurements of parameters that cosmologists have long used to describe the early evolution of the universe, but in the past could only illustrate with models.
NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite provided the first detailed images of tiny variations in the CMB radiation in 1992. Last year, the BOOMERANG team published the first high- resolution images of the CMB, obtained with a telescope suspended from a balloon that circumnavigated the Antarctic at an altitude of almost 37 kilometers (120,000 feet). A third team obtained high-resolution images with the Millimeter Anisotropy Experiment Imaging Array (MAXIMA), flown with a high-altitude balloon over the continental United States. The intricate images from the independent projects showed the very beginnings of structure in the universe and provided evidence for the prediction that the universe was "flat," a term that refers to the curvature of space.
The inflation theory also predicted that the imprint of early structures would feature harmonic-like "peaks" in the temperature variations of the CMB. But detection of those features was beyond the ability of the technology until recently.
The results reported at today's meeting by members of BOOMERANG and DASI appear to confirm the predicted peaks. The peaks were observed as variations in the temperature of the CMB as small as 100 millionths of a degree.
MAXIMA data presented at the meeting are consistent with the existence of the peaks, as are the data of a fourth NSF-supported team, using the Cosmic Background Imager (CBI) at the California Institute of Technology. The CBI team reported their findings in the March 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
The DASI, BOOMERANG, MAXIMA, DASI and CBI projects are supported by NSF through NSF Science and Technology Centers, NSF's U.S. Antarctic Program, and individual grants. BOOMERANG and MAXIMA were also supported by NASA's National Scientific Balloon Facility, and BOOMERANG received support from the governments of Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada.
For more information see the individual project websites at:
DASI - astro.uchicago.edu/dasi/
BOOMERANG - www.physics.ucsb.edu/~boomerang/
MAXIMA - cfpa.berkeley.edu/group/cmb/index.html
CBI - www.astro.caltech.edu/~tjp/CBI/
For background on the cosmic microwave background, see:
The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic
Explorer, FUSE, was launched on June 24 to study, especially, deuterium in the
spectra in the directions of a large number of stars in our galaxy. It is
that deuterium has a cosmic origin, as described in Chapter 37, so that the
distribution of deuterium will be uniform. We will see.
See http://fuse.pha.jhu.edu/ font>
The fields are analyzed, by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, at http://sbast4.ess.sunysb.edu/hdfs/home.html
Scientists have a new tool to search for the "fossil record" of the Big Bang and uncover clues about the evolution of the universe. Launched June 24, 1999, NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) observes nearby planets and the farthest reaches of the universe to provide a detailed picture of the immense structure of our own Milky Way galaxy.
The FUSE mission's primary scientific focus is the study of hydrogen and deuterium (a different form of hydrogen), which were created shortly after the Big Bang. With this information, astronomers in effect will be able to look back in time at the infant universe.
By examining these earliest relics of the birth of the universe, astronomers hope better to understand the processes that led to the formation and evolution of stars, including our solar system. Ultimately, scientists hope data from FUSE will allow them to make a huge leap of understanding about how the primordial elements were created and have been distributed since the beginning of time.
"We think that as stars age deuterium is destroyed," said NASA's Dr. George Sonneborn, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, the FUSE project scientist. "Mapping deuterium throughout the Milky Way will give us a better understanding of how elements are mixed, distributed and destroyed."
"The big questions are these: Do we understand the origins of the universe, and do we understand how galaxies evolve?" said Dr. Kenneth Sembach, a FUSE science team member from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. "Because FUSE can observe ultraviolet light that other telescopes can't, we can test in unique ways how deuterium and other elements are circulated within galaxies. That in turn may test the limits of the Big Bang theory."
Among the cosmic questions FUSE will tackle are:
-- What were conditions like in the first few minutes after the Big Bang? Will studying the "fossil remnant" deuterium change current theories of the Big Bang?
-- How are the elements dispersed throughout galaxies, and how does this affect the way galaxies evolve?
-- What are the properties of the interstellar gas clouds out of which stars and planets form?
-- Does the Milky Way have a vast galactic fountain that gives birth to stars, spews hot gas, circulates elements and churns out cosmic material over and over?
FUSE was developed for NASA by Johns Hopkins, which has the primary responsibility for all aspects of the project. NASA is responsible for the launch. FUSE is the first NASA mission of this scope that has been developed and operated entirely by a university. Dr. Warren Moos, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins, is Principal Investigator for FUSE.
Information on the FUSE mission and NASA's Origins program can be found at:
Basic particle physics is covered by "The Particle Adventure" of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Summary sheets are available from Royal Holloway College, England.