ANTARCTICA (WLNS) – The South Pole Telescope is one of the tools scientists are using to understand the earliest history of our universe.
The research being conducted in Antarctica will lead us to greater understanding and the Department of Energy is working to help push the bounds of knowledge for Humanity by identifying new and exciting paths to future discoveries.Paul Dabbar, Under Secretary for Science for the U.S. Department of Energy
Unlike telescopes that examine individual planets or stars, the South Pole Telescope is designed to take a broader look at the entire universe.
The cosmic microwave background, or CMB, was created about 14 billion years ago, and spans the entire universe.
By mapping the CMB, scientists can better understand what the universe looked like way back when it was formed. From there, they can gain insights into the universe’s origin.
While not a very convenient place for a telescope, the South Pole provides some handy benefits if you’re looking to measure the CMB.
The water in the Earth’s atmosphere interferes with being able to measure the heat from the CMB. However, the Antarctic is a desert, so it’s very dry.
The South Pole is also on a plateau that’s nearly two miles above sea level, above most water vapor in the air.
In addition, the South Pole receives almost no sunshine during the winter. That makes it ideal for watching the sky.
Another advantage is accessibility—compared to experiments in outer space.
Scientists can service their instruments regularly at the South Pole and deploy next-generation detector technology much sooner there than in space.
The CMB’s energy changes a little bit as it moves through giant groups of galaxies so mapping the CMB can also help scientists find these groups.
These types of observations can help scientists better understand the “dark energy” that is causing the universe to expand ever faster.