South Pole telescope detector aids study of the universe

Nov 13, 2013
South Pole telescope detector aids study of the universe

Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) users from Argonne's High Energy Physics and Materials Science divisions helped design and operate part of the South Pole Telescope, a project that aims a large telescope at the night sky to track radiation from the period just after the universe was born. Developing and designing the detectors for the camera required expertise from several Argonne facilities and research divisions, including the expertise and capabilities in CNM's Nanofabrication & Devices Group.

In the wake of the Big Bang, all matter was hot, dense particles and light. As the universe aged, it began to spread and cool, and the intense light from that period traveled across space. The light is still traveling and has a very distinct radiation signature called the cosmic microwave background.  Mapping the cosmic microwave background can reveal information about dark matter and dark energy, which are thought to make up 95% of the universe. Dark energy affects the way galaxy clusters form. By comparing the distribution of distant galaxy clusters with the distribution observed nearby, scientists can decode the role dark energy plays in the universe.

The majority of cosmic microwave background radiation has wavelengths of 1-2 mm. These photons are absorbed by water, so a dry, flat and preferably cold space is needed to capture them. The South Pole is one of only two ideal locations on Earth. The South Pole telescope is more than 30 feet across, and Argonne scientists helped build its camera. Detectors for the camera were developed and designed with expertise from several Argonne facilities and research divisions.

At the core of the detector technology is a thin—at the nanoscale—superconducting film comprised of Mo/Au bilayer-based heterostructures modified with superconducting (niobium) and normal (gold) metal stripes. Superconductors can carry an electrical charge perfectly and are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. When thermal radiation from the cosmic microwave background hits the camera, it heats the material slightly, changing the conductivity of the film. The energy coming from that particular part of the sky is then recorded.

Explore further: South Pole Telescope helps Argonne scientists study earliest ages of the universe

More information: D. Hanson et al., "Detection of B-Mode Polarization in the Cosmic Microwave Background with Data from the South Pole Telescope," Phys. Rev. Lett., 111, 141301 (2013)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Thales Alenia Space kicks off Euclid construction

Jul 09, 2013

The construction of ESA's Euclid space mission to explore the 'dark Universe' will be led by Italy's Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, beginning the full industrial phase of the project. 

Celebrating the legacy of ESA's Planck mission

Oct 21, 2013

From the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang to the evolution of stars and galaxies over 13.8 billion years, ESA's Planck space telescope has provided new insight into the history of our Universe. ...

Recommended for you

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

12 hours ago

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

12 hours ago

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

Ultra-deep astrophoto of the Antenna Galaxies

12 hours ago

You might think the image above of the famous Antenna Galaxies was taken by a large ground-based or even a space telescope. Think again. Amateur astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen from New Zealand compiled a total ...

The most precise measurement of an alien world's size

14 hours ago

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, ...

User comments : 0