Astronomer Opens New Window Into Early Universe

Scientists have developed a radio astronomy experiment to detect a signal from the early universe.

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After careful analysis of their observations, Bowman and Rogers were able to show that the gas between galaxies could not have been ionized extremely rapidly. This marks the first time that radio observations have directly probed the properties of primordial gas during the EoR and paves the way for future studies. "We're breaking down barriers to open an entirely new window into the early universe," Bowman says.

The next generation of large radio telescopes is under construction right now to attempt much more sophisticated measurements of the 21 cm line from the EoR. Bowman is the project scientist for one of the telescopes called the Murchison Widefield Array. According to him, the most likely physical picture for the EoR looked like a lot of bubbles that started percolating out from galaxies and then grew together—but that idea needs to be tested. If lots of galaxies all put out a little bit of radiation, then there would be many little bubbles everywhere and those would grow and eventually merge like a really fizzy and frothy foam. On the other hand, if there were just a few big galaxies that each emitted a lot of radiation then there would have been only a few big bubbles that grew together.

"Our goal, eventually, is to make radio maps of the sky showing how and when reionization occurred. Since we can't make those maps yet, we are starting with these simple experiments to begin to constrain the basic properties of the gas and how long it took for galaxies to change it," explains Bowman. "This will improve our understanding of the large-scale evolution of the universe."

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