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Long-Sought Pattern of Ancient Light Detected

Long-Sought Pattern of Ancient Light Detected

October 23, 2013
Artist's impression of photons from the early universe being deflected by the gravitational lensing (ESA)

This artist’s impression shows photons from the early universe being deflected by the gravitational lensing effect of massive cosmic structures as they travel across the universe.

The journey of light from the very early universe to modern telescopes is long and winding. The ancient light traveled billions of years to reach us, and along the way, its path was distorted by the pull of matter, leading to a twisted light pattern.

This twisted pattern of light, called B-modes, has at last been detected. The discovery, which will lead to better maps of matter across the universe, was made using the U.S. National Science Foundation’s South Pole Telescope, with help from the Herschel space observatory.

Scientists have long predicted two types of B-modes. The ones that were recently found were generated a few billion years into the universe’s existence. The others, called primordial, are theorized to have been produced when the universe was a newborn, fractions of a second after its birth in the Big Bang.

“This latest discovery is a good checkpoint on our way to the measurement of primordial B-modes,” said Duncan Hanson of McGill University in Montreal, lead author of the new report published September 30, 2013 in the online edition of Physical Review Letters.

The elusive primordial B-modes may be imprinted with clues about how our universe was born. Scientists are currently combing through data from the Planck mission in search of them. Both Herschel and Planck are European Space Agency missions.

For more on the hunt for B-modes, see the NASA press release.