Super-sensors to measure ’signature’ of inflationary universe

May 4th, 2009 - 12:39 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 4 (ANI): Scientists have built super-sensitive microwave sensors that would help provide evidence in support of the “inflation theory” of the cosmos, which says the universe expanded rapidly from a subatomic volume.

The new detectors, built at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), were made for a potentially ground-breaking experiment by a collaboration involving NIST, Princeton University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the University of Chicago.

This is part of a long-standing project at NIST’s Boulder campus plays a critical role in the study of the cosmic microwave background (CMB)-the faint afterglow of the Big Bang that still fills the universe.

This project previously built superconducting amplifiers and cameras for CMB experiments at the South Pole, in balloon-borne observatories, and on the Atacama Plateau in Chile.

The new experiment will begin approximately a year from now on the Chilean desert and will consist of placing a large array of powerful NIST sensors on a telescope mounted in a converted shipping container.

The detectors will look for subtle fingerprints in the CMB from primordial gravitational waves-ripples in the fabric of space-time from the violent birth of the universe more than 13 billion years ago.

Such waves are believed to have left a faint but unique imprint on the direction of the CMB’s electric field, called the “B-mode polarization.”

These waves-never before confirmed through measurements-are potentially detectable today, if sensitive enough equipment is used.

If found, these waves would be the clearest evidence yet in support of the “inflation theory,” which suggests that all of the currently observable universe expanded rapidly from a subatomic volume, leaving in its wake the telltale cosmic background of gravitational waves.

“The B-mode polarization is the most significant piece of evidence related to inflation that has yet to be observed,” said Ki Won Yoon, a NIST postdoctoral scholar.

“A detection of primordial gravitational waves through CMB polarization would go a long way toward putting the inflation theory on firm ground,” Yoon added.

The data also could provide scientists with insights into different string theory models of the universe and other “unified” theories of physics.

The new NIST detectors may also have applications closer to home, such as in reducing glare in advanced terahertz imaging systems for detecting weapons and contraband. (ANI)

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