Results from the South Pole Telescope’s new camera are shown

Results from the South Pole Telescope’s new camera are shown

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The cosmic microwave background – the oldest light in the universe – has traveled great distances before reaching us. During its extended journey, gravitational forces from massive cosmic structures caused its path to bend before it was picked up by the South Pole Telescope. Credit: Zhaodi Pan/Argonne National Laboratory

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The cosmic microwave background – the oldest light in the universe – has traveled great distances before reaching us. During its extended journey, gravitational forces from massive cosmic structures caused its path to bend before it was picked up by the South Pole Telescope. Credit: Zhaodi Pan/Argonne National Laboratory

For more than five years, scientists at the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica have been monitoring the sky with an upgraded camera. The extended view into the cosmos captures leftover light from the early formation of the universe. Now researchers have analyzed an initial set of data, and published the details in the journal Physical review d. The results from this limited data set point to more powerful future insights into the nature of our universe.

The telescope at the Amundsen-Scott Antarctic Station, operated by the National Science Foundation, received a new camera known as SPT-3G in 2017. Equipped with 16,000 detectors — 10 times more than its predecessor — SPT-3G is central to multi-institutional research led by In part, the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The goal is to measure faint light known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The CMB is the afterglow of the Big Bang, when the universe exploded from a single point of energy approximately 14 billion years ago.

“The CMB is a treasure map for cosmologists,” said Zhaodi Pan, lead author of the paper and a Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellow at Argonne. “Tiny differences in temperature and polarization provide a unique window into the childhood of the universe.”

The paper is in Physical review d Presents the first CMB gravitational lensing measurements from SPT-3G. Gravitational lensing occurs when the universe’s vast web of matter distorts the CMB as it travels through space. If you place the curved base of a wine glass on the page of a book, the glass will distort your view of the words behind it. Likewise, material in a telescope’s line of sight forms a lens that bends the CMB light and our view of it. Albert Einstein described this distortion in the fabric of space-time in his theory of general relativity.

Measurements of this distortion hold clues about the early universe and secrets such as dark matter, an invisible component of the universe. “Dark matter is difficult to detect, because it does not interact with light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. Currently, we can only observe it through gravitational interactions,” Pan said.

Scientists have been studying the CMB since its discovery in the 1960s, observing it through telescopes on Earth and in space. Although the latest analysis uses only a few months of SPT-3G data from 2018, gravitational lensing is already competitive in the field.

“One of the really interesting parts of this study is that the result comes from what essentially required data when we were just starting observations with SPT-3G, and the result is really impressive,” said Amy Bender, a physicist at Argonne and MIT. Co-author of the paper. “We have another five years of data that we’re analyzing now, so this just indicates what’s to come.”


In this gradient distribution of matter for all matter in the observable universe, measured by SPT-3G, red indicates regions of higher matter density, while blue indicates lower density. credit: Physical review d (2023). doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.108.122005

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In this gradient distribution of matter for all matter in the observable universe, measured by SPT-3G, red indicates regions of higher matter density, while blue indicates lower density. credit: Physical review d (2023). doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.108.122005

The dry, stable atmosphere and remote location of the South Pole Telescope create minimal interference when searching for CMB patterns. However, data from the highly sensitive SPT-3G camera contains contamination from the atmosphere, as well as from our Galaxy and extragalactic sources.

Analyzing SPT-3G data for even a few months is a task that takes years, as researchers need to validate the data, filter out noise, and interpret the measurements. The team used a dedicated cluster, a group of computers, at the Computing Resource Center at Argonne Laboratory to perform some of the calculations for the research.

more information:
Z. Pan et al., Measurement of gravitational lensing of the cosmic microwave background using SPT-3G 2018 data, Physical review d (2023). doi: 10.1103/PhysRevD.108.122005

Magazine information:
Physical review d

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