Magazine article Science News

Big Bang's Glow Maps Early Mass: Cosmic Radiation Confirms Existence of Dark Energy

Magazine article Science News

Big Bang's Glow Maps Early Mass: Cosmic Radiation Confirms Existence of Dark Energy

Article excerpt

In a cosmic feat of observation, astronomers have used the distortions of ancient light left over from the Big Bang to explore how clumps of matter were distributed in the early universe.

The work also independently confirms the existence of dark energy, an enigmatic force that appears to be pushing the cosmos apart faster and faster.

Researchers using the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in the Chilean Andes reported the discoveries July 5 in two papers in Physical Review Letters. The new work "will be a really powerful probe for figuring out dark energy and a lot of other interesting things," says team member Blake Sherwin of Princeton University.

Several scientists have won Nobel Prizes for studying the cosmic microwave background radiation, the afterglow left from the fireball that accompanied the creation of the universe 13.7 billion years ago. In the 2000s, a satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mapped how that radiation is spread across the entire sky. But seeing the distortions now being studied required a telescope with more precise vision.

Using the 6-meter Atacama telescope, astronomers analyzed the temperature of the afterglow in a narrow strip of sky along the celestial equator. They used complex statistical analyses to tease out how temperature fluctuations--essentially, hot and cold spots on the ancient sky map--had been distorted by intervening matter.

Astronomers regularly see such "gravitational lensing" with individual galaxies or galaxy clusters, when another massive clump of matter gets in the way. …

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