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Measurements of Ancient Radiation Could Unveil New Secrets of the Universe

May 14, 2014 03:41 PM EDT
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Astrophysicists are one step closer to discovering two very important secrets of the universe - the mass of neutrinos and the exact positions of "dark matter" and "dark energy."

Using the HuanTran Telescope located in Chile built to detect minute distortions in polarized radiation from the early universe, astrophysicists from the University of California in San Diego have discovered a way to measure specific waves from "the Cosmic Microwave Background" (CMB). These measurements can help scientists determine the distribution of dark matter throughout the universe, and even potentially discover the mass of the subatomic particle known as a neutrino.

According to a study published for the June issue of the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters, polarized "B-mode" microwaves emitting from the CMB give off a very specific signature that tells scientists they were likely produced just 380,000 years after the Big Bang - when the universe's first atoms began to form.

Researchers had theorized that denser portions of the universe - heavy with dark matter and dark energies that cannot be detected with traditional observational equipment - would pull at these waves, creating distortions in their polarization pattern called "lensing," which can be detected and mapped.

The UC San Diego experts are reporting that this is exactly what observational data is showing. The resulting dark matter mapping even appears to correlate with the Theory of Relativity, to everyone's surprise.

"This was the first direct measurement of CMB polarization lensing. And the amazing thing is that the amount of lensing that we found through these calculations is consistent with what Einstein's general relativity theory predicted," Chang Feng, the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Another mystery of the universe, the neutrino, must have a mass according to many accepted theories of physics. However, current means of measuring mass have always been unable to weigh the ghostly particles.

Feng explained in a university press release that his team and another collaborating team hope to use data acquired through their new measurements to finally determine the neutrino's mass.

"Using the tools Chang has developed, it's only a matter of time before we can weigh the neutrino, the only fundamental elementary particle whose mass is unknown. That would be an astounding achievement for astronomy, cosmology and physics itself," partner physicist Brian Keating, said.

A UC San Diego press release was published on May 13.

The study is slated to be published as an editor's choice in Physical Review Letters in June.

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