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Why The Universe Is Brighter Than We Thought

Nov 07, 2014 04:19 PM EST
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Last year, a series of sounding rockets were launched to better asses all the light in the known Universe. Based on the resulting data, experts have now determined that there is a lot more infrared light between galaxies than we can account for, leaving astronomers wondering "so where did it all come from?"
(Photo : T. Arai/University of Tokyo)

Last year, a series of sounding rockets were launched to better asses all the light in the known Universe. Based on the resulting data, experts have now determined that there is a lot more infrared light between galaxies than we can account for, leaving astronomers wondering "so where did it all come from?"

The results of these rocket flights, two of four launches as part of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment rocket (CIBER) project, were recently detailed in the journal Science.

According to the study, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) had previously taken a lot of infrared readings that just didn't makes sense. There appeared to be far too much background infrared light than galactic sources could account for.

Now, the CIBER readings indicate that this excess light may be coming from stars that are being scattered out into space during galactic collisions, spreading light into the void between galaxies that otherwise wouldn't be there.

"While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread," leady study author Michael Zemcov explained in a statement.

"It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery," added Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. "Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large."

But why were they needed? According to the study, because Earth's atmosphere glows brightly, certain wavelengths of light can only be measured from space. The rockets then were necessary to snap photographs of the Universe as they drew further away from our planet.

The pictures were then poured over by experts, who systematically eliminated any sources of infrared light that they could attribute to a known source. What remained was a mess of light in the short blue spectrum.

"The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies," added James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project. "The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace."

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