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ARRA to Help Build Telescope

Photonics.com
Mar 2010
BALTIMORE, March 22, 2010 — A team led by Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University has won a $5 million National Science Foundation grant – administered through the federal stimulus package – to build a telescope that will probe what happened during the universe’s first trillionth of a second.

According to Bennett, the instrument, which is expected to require five years to build, will be able to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation extant over large swaths of the sky. The data provided by the instrument should help show what happened when the universe suddenly grew from submicroscopic to astronomical size in far less than time than it takes to blink.


Launched in 2001, NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission maps the cosmic microwave background radiation. To further help track the earliest light in the universe, researchers led by Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins will build a new ground-based telescope, called the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor.

After being built in Maryland, the ground-based telescope will be shipped to a perch in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

“Miraculously enough, it is within our ability as humans to probe back into the first moments of the universe and learn what happened then,” Bennett said.

Starting with his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite and continuing by leading the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission, Bennett’s career has been spent probing the cosmic microwave background. That’s the remnant afterglow light which lingers, much cooled, from the universe’s energetic beginnings 13.7 billion years ago. In 2009, papers about WMAP were the most cited scientific papers in the world across all scientific disciplines, not just in physics and astronomy.

Called the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor, or CLASS, the new instrument is expected to search the microwave sky for a unique polarization pattern, predicted to have arisen in the infant universe. More specifically, the telescope will help researchers determine the veracity of a theory called inflation, which posits that the universe expanded from infinitesimal to astronomical in size in an astonishingly short time.

“This burst left ripples – what we call ‘gravitational waves’ – in the fabric of space, and those ripples in space cause the cosmic background light to be polarized in a particular and unique kind of pattern. Looking at that pattern will tell us if the inflation idea is right – or wrong! – and the details of what we see will inform us about what kind of inflation happened,” Bennett said.

Bennett, his colleagues and his students are hard at work developing the state-of-the-art technologies needed for the instrument. The project is expected to support an additional 39 full-time employees, plus graduate students, over the course of the five-year grant.

Bennett’s team’s investigations are among the more than 364 stimulus-funded research grants and supplements totaling almost $180 million that Johns Hopkins has garnered since Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ARRA gave the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation $12.4 billion in extra money to underwrite research grants by September 2010. The stimulus package is part of the federal government’s attempt to bring back a stumbling economy by distributing dollars for transportation projects, infrastructure building, the development of new energy sources and job creation, and financing research that will benefit humankind.

For more information, visit: cosmos.pha.jhu.edu/bennett  


GLOSSARY
gravitational waves
Postulated by Einstein in his theory of relativity. They are waves traveling at the speed of light and exerting force on matter in their path. They are produced by changes in the distribution of matter.
polarization
With respect to light radiation, the restriction of the vibrations of the magnetic or electric field vector to a single plane. In a beam of electromagnetic radiation, the polarization direction is the direction of the electric field vector (with no distinction between positive and negative as the field oscillates back and forth). The polarization vector is always in the plane at right angles to the beam direction. Near some given stationary point in space the polarization direction in the beam...
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