South Pole Telescope looking for "fossils"

The South Pole Telescope measures the cosmic microwave background! Photo: Jason Gallicchio

The South Pole Telescope measures the cosmic microwave background! Photo: Jason Gallicchio

Greetings and welcome back, Earthlings!

You may have noticed that I mentioned “fossils” in the title of this blog post. No, I’m not meaning feathery birds of terror from millions of years ago, but rather galaxies from BILLIONS of years ago! Yes, we call these galaxies that are billions of light years away (thus billions of years old of age) “fossils”…these fossils then give us clues to the state of the universe in that time period after the Big Bang (much like how dinosaurs tell us about the Earth in a particular point in time!)

One instrument that helps us with these celestial fossils is the South Pole Telescope! This facility is a 10-meter diameter telescope located in Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica! The telescope is designed to observe in several different wavelengths, mainly in the microwave, millimeter-wave, and submillimeter wave regions of the electromagnetic spectrum! (So this telescope is not an ordinary telescope with an eyepiece!). Observing the sky with this kind of range can have special sensitivity to the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the oldest evidence of the Big Bang background!

Some questions that the South Pole Telescope is trying to answer:

1- How has the Universe changed as it ages?

2- How does the Universe age?

3- What different kinds of “fossils” can be clues to the development of the Universe after the Big Bang?

4- Can we predict what the Universe would look like billions of years into the future?

So far, quite a few discoveries have been made with the SPT, including finding special ionized parts of the CMB, leading to a more dynamic background than we thought!

Components of the South Polar Telescope! Image credit:  http://www.phys.cwru.edu

Components of the South Polar Telescope! Image credit: http://www.phys.cwru.edu

Thank you for reading and tune in next week for a look at a possible mission to Triton!

Caitlin Ahrens