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South Pole Telescope will study 'noise' from the early universe

A new camera could shed new light on cosmic background radiation.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
September 10, 2018
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Jason Gallicchio

Scientists just got a valuable tool in their quest to understand the cosmic microwave background radiation that persists from the earliest days of the universe. The South Pole Telescope recently received an ultra-sensitive camera that will study the cosmic microwave background at an extreme level of detail. Its 16,000 detectors (ten times more than a previous experiment) can spot minuscule changes in temperature when they receive light, helping them pick up the ancient microwave energy that's virtually omnipresent in the universe but difficult to detect with conventional methods.

The study will take multiple years, and it's only feasible in places like the Antarctic because of both the high elevation (on two miles of ice) and exceptionally dry atmospheric conditions.

The potential findings are vast, however. They could help understand some of the more mysterious aspects of the universe, including dark energy, neutrino particles and gravitational waves. It might also spot some of the early giant galaxies where the first stars came to be, and could help find previously unconfirmed particles. All told, the SPT could expand or even challenge humanity's understanding of how the universe works.

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