Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA technology views birth of the universe

Date:
March 17, 2014
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Astronomers have acquired the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during an explosive period of growth called inflation. This is 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.

The BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole used a specialized array of superconducting detectors to capture polarized light from billions of years ago.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers are announcing today that they have acquired the first direct evidence that gravitational waves rippled through our infant universe during an explosive period of growth called inflation. This is 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.

Related Articles


The findings were made with the help of NASA-developed detector technology on the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation.

"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," said Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director in Washington.

Our universe burst into existence in an event known as the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Moments later, space itself ripped apart, expanding exponentially in an episode known as inflation. Telltale signs of this early chapter in our universe's history are imprinted in the skies, in a relic glow called the cosmic microwave background. Recently, this basic theory of the universe was again confirmed by the Planck satellite, a European Space Agency mission for which NASA provided detector and cooler technology.

But researchers had long sought more direct evidence for inflation in the form of gravitational waves, which squeeze and stretch space.

"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," said project co-leader Jamie Bock of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., which developed the BICEP2 detector technology. Bock has a joint appointment with the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena.

The gravitational waves produced a characteristic swirly pattern in polarized light, called "B-mode" polarization. Light can become polarized by scattering off surfaces, such as a car or pond. Polarized sunglasses reject polarized light to reduce glare. In the case of the cosmic microwave background, light scattered off particles called electrons to become slightly polarized.

The BICEP2 team took on the challenge 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. The collaboration includes major contributions from Caltech; JPL; Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.; Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

As a result of experiments conducted since 2006, the team has been able to produce compelling evidence for the B-mode signal, and with it, the strongest support yet for cosmic inflation. The key to their success was the use of novel superconducting detectors. Superconductors are materials that, when chilled, allow electrical current to flow freely, with zero resistance.

"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," said Anthony Turner, who makes these devices using specialized fabrication equipment at JPL's Microdevices Laboratory.

The B-mode signal is extremely faint. In order to gain the necessary sensitivity to detect the polarization signal, Bock and Turner developed a unique array of multiple detectors, akin to the pixels in modern digital cameras but with the added ability to detect polarization. The whole detector system operates at a frosty 0.25 Kelvin, just 0.45 degrees Fahrenheit above the lowest temperature achievable, absolute zero.

"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."

The BICEP2 experiment used 512 detectors, which sped up observations of the cosmic microwave background by 10 times over the team's previous measurements. Their new experiment, already making observations, uses 2,560 detectors.

These and future experiments not only help confirm that the universe inflated dramatically, but are providing theorists with the first clues about the exotic forces that drove space and time apart.

The results of this study have been submitted to the journal Nature.

JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for NASA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA technology views birth of the universe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317155022.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2014, March 17). NASA technology views birth of the universe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317155022.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA technology views birth of the universe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140317155022.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: China Launches Moon Orbiter

Raw: China Launches Moon Orbiter

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) — China launched an experimental spacecraft Friday to fly around the moon and back to Earth in preparation for the country's first unmanned return trip to the lunar surface. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — The mission is China's next step toward automated sample-return missions and eventual manned missions to the moon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 22, 2014) — Russian cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev step outside the International Space Station to perform work on the exterior of the station's Russian module. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Tremors of the Big Bang: First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation

Mar. 17, 2014 — Almost 14 billion years ago, the universe we inhabit burst into existence in an extraordinary event that initiated the Big Bang. In the first fleeting fraction of a second, the universe expanded ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins