Cosmologists celebrated the new year by launching a new experiment on a balloon in Antarctica to investigate the Big Bang, the New York Times said.
The set of six telescopes known as SPIDER will circle the continent for the next 20 days, observing a haze of faint microwave radio waves that envelop space and are thought to be the fading remnants of the primordial fireball in which it all started 13.8 billion years ago, the Times said.
SPIDER stands for Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation, Dust and the Epoch of Reionization.
The telescopes, built by an international collaboration led by physicists from the California Institute of Technology and Princeton, are designed to detect faint curlicues in the polarization of the microwaves. According to a widely held theory known as inflation, such curls would have been caused by violent disruptions of space-time when the universe as we know it began expanding, a sliver of a moment after time as we think we understand it began, the report said.
If SPIDER finds these patterns of polarization, “it would be a smoking gun of how the universe began, ” said University of British Colombia professor Mark Halpern, a member of the SPIDER team, on the CBC program On The Coast.
According to Halpern, scientists theorize that during the Big Bang, there was an “unbelievable expansion of the universe … that the whole universe came to be in a tiny fraction of a second out of something that at the start was way less than a grain of sand, and then stopped expanding.”
The telescope weighs about the same as a Ford Explorer and is attached to an inflatable helium balloon that is roughly the size of a professional hockey arena. It will remain airborne for 20 days at an altitude of 36 km, cruising on the circumpolar winds that circle the coast of Antarctica, CBC said.
The puzzle for scientists is understanding why the universe, which is so old, didn’t fly apart or collapse, Halpern said.
“If it kept expanding, it would now be empty…It would be so expanded that the number of atoms per cubic metre would be uninteresting.”
SPIDER will observe the microwaves in two wavelengths which will allow them to distinguish dust from primordial space-time ripples. It will also have the advantage of being above the atmosphere, the Times said
SPIDER was shipped from Canada, where it was built over the course of a decade. Researchers had to separate it into pieces and then put it back together on site, CBC said.