Probe to look out for gravity waves emitted 14 billion years ago

May 16th, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 16 (ANI): A new probe is going to look for the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, which is the afterglow of the Big Bang, that may still carry a faint signature of gravitational waves, which rippled through the very fabric of space-time nearly 14 billion years ago.

A tiny fraction of a second following the Big Bang, the universe allegedly experienced the most inflationary period it has ever known.

“During this inflationary era, space expanded faster than the speed of light. It sounds crazy, but it fits a variety of cosmological observations made in recent years,” said University of Chicago physicist Bruce Winstein.

“Theorists take it to be true, but we have to prove it,” said Winstein, the Samuel K. Allison Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. “It needs a real test, and that test is whether or not gravity waves were created,” he added.

“The CMB is probably our best handle on the overall structure of the universe and how it was born,” he further added.

Winstein and his Chicago associates are part of the international QUIET (Q/U Imaging ExperimenT; the Q and U stand for radiation parameters called Stokes parameters) collaboration that has devised such a test.

QUIET’s goal is to detect remnants of the radiation emitted at the earliest moments of the universe, when gravity waves rippled through the very fabric of space-time itself.

The intensive gravitational fields that existed at these earliest moments, according to Einstein, produced gravity waves that alternatively compressed and expanded space, first in one direction, then another.

The QUIET experiment began operating last October with an antenna array that contains 19 detectors.

Since then, QUIET collaborators at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California have produced 91 detectors sensitive to the radiation at a higher frequency.

Over the past several months, the Chicago collaboration has assembled and calibrated these 91 detectors in the basement of the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Winstein’s team has tested each detector, adjusting 10 critical voltages for each to yield the best performance.

According to Winstein, correctly optimized voltages can improve detector performance by a large factor, making it possible to observe in one day what would have otherwise required a week.

This newer, more sensitive array will begin operating in June. (ANI)

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