Title : PR 93-53 South Pole Researchers Observe Early Structure of the Universe Type : Pre

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Title : PR 93-53 South Pole Researchers Observe Early Structure of the Universe Type : Press Release NSF Org: OD / LPA Date : July 15, 1993 File : pr9353 Lynn Simarski, NSF EMBARGOED UNTIL 2:30 P.M.(PDT): (202) 357-9498 June 10, 1993 NSF PR 93-53 Diana Steele, University of Chicago (312) 702-8366 Justin Harmon, Princeton University (609) 258-5732 SOUTH POLE RESEARCHERS OBSERVE EARLY STRUCTURE OF THE UNIVERSE Scientists working at the South Pole have discovered evidence of cosmic structures that formed just one million years after the universe began. They announced their results June 10 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Berkeley, California. Physicists Mark Dragovan and Jeffrey Peterson, both from Princeton University, made their observations at the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica (CARA), operated by the University of Chicago. CARA is a Science and Technology Center funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and managed under the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is run by NSF. Using two specially designed radio telescopes at CARA's South Pole observatory, the researchers detected small temperature fluctuations in microwave radiation left over from a scant one million years after the Big Bang. Scientists believe that the massive explosion gave birth to the universe 12-20 billion years ago. -2- The temperature fluctuations suggest the seeds of the clustered structures that may have evolved into the galaxies seen today. The fluctuations detected from shortly after the universe's birth mean that parts of the universe were slightly denser than others, according to Dragovan. "Although more work needs to be done to confirm the results, we probably have seen the beginnings of structure in the universe," he said. For years, astronomers have searched for slight variations in the radiation from the early universe. They have sought the origin of the very "lumpy," or inhomogeneous, distribution of matter in today's universe--a structure featuring massive galaxies with billions of stars, separated by vast expanses of nearly empty space. Until very recently, however, measurements showed the primal radiation to be perfectly uniform, implying that its source, the early hot matter, was just as smooth. The new findings complement measurements announced last year by other researchers using the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite. COBE's telescope observed irregularities in the microwave radiation over relatively large patches in the sky, about seven degrees across. The two CARA telescopes used at the South Pole during the southern summer of 1992-93 measure variations on smaller scales. One, a three-quarter meter telescope developed by Dragovan, observes regions three degrees across. The larger, one-meter telescope developed by Peterson "sees" a narrower part of the sky--about half a degree wide. The cosmic background radiation the researchers studied is just 2.7 degrees celsius above absolute zero. Only Dragovan's telescope detected the tiny temperature variations, discerned at a level of approximately thirty parts per million. Although Peterson did not detect variations, he showed that if variations do exist they must be at levels of less than eight parts per million, an observation that is difficult for current theories to explain. "A `fog' or `cosmic mist' of free electrons may be obscuring our view of the smaller-scale structure of the universe," Peterson suggested. The researchers hope to refine these results through future observations at the Pole. The smaller telescope will be used over the 1994 Antarctic winter, and a new 2.5 meter telescope will be built next year to continue the search for temperature variations and the structures they represent at the smaller scale. CARA director Doyal Harper, a University of Chicago astrophysicist, said there are distinct advantages to working as part of a Science and Technology Center like CARA. "The scientists and other center personnel can share ideas and technical and logistical support," he said. "This makes it possible to conduct complex experiments using state-of-the-art detectors even in the demanding polar environment." For example, the radio wave detectors at the Pole had to be cooled nearly to absolute zero-- difficult enough in a fully-equipped laboratory, not to mention at a remote outpost. The advantages of doing astronomy at the South Pole, however, far outweigh the discomforts. The extremely dry air is almost completely free of water vapor, which ordinarily obscures observations of the microwave glow. Also, the same patch of sky can be observed continuously from the Pole, so a telescope can be used much more efficiently there than at lower latitudes. -end- The National Science Foundation is an independent agency of the federal government established in 1950 to promote and advance scientific progress in the United States. NSF accomplishes its mission primarily by competitively awarding grants to educational institutions for research and education in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. This and other information is available electronically on STIS, NSF's Science and Technology Information System. For more information about STIS contact the Publications Section at (202) 357-7861 and request the "STIS Flyer," NSF Publication #91-10, or send an E-mail message to stisinfo@nsf.gov (INTERNET) or stisinfo@NSF (BITNET).


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