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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Universe shows its dark side
VSA, PParc
Listening to the 'echo of creation.'

An international team of physicists has released the first results of new high-precision observations of the relic radiation from the Big Bang.

The observations of the so-called the cosmic microwave background (CMB) were made with a novel radio telescope called the Very Small Array (VSA) situated on the Mount Teide in Tenerife.

The images show the beginnings of the formation of structure in the early Universe.

From details in the images, scientists can obtain vital information on just what happened in the early Universe and distinguish between competing cosmological theories.

Flat and dark

Astronomers can observe the faint relic radiation in all directions on the sky. It provides a picture of the Universe when it was less than one 50,000th of its present age.

VSA, PParc
CMB ripples reveal details in the early Universe
During its first year of operation, the VSA has observed three patches of sky, each about 8 x 8 degrees across. It can see detail down to one third of a degree, well matched to the typical size of interesting variations seen in the CMB by other instruments.

The array is able to filter out unwanted terrestrial and atmospheric radiation, allowing the extremely faint CMB sky signal common to all the aerials to be detected.

The first VSA observations of the CMB suggest that the Universe is "flat", that is the curvature of space is close to zero.

Accelerating Universe

Put another way, this means the usual rules of Euclidean geometry taught in schools are observed in the cosmos: straight lines can be extended to infinity and the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, etc.

Going further, the observations confirm that the cosmos is dominated by the so far unidentified dark matter and that there is some evidence for the even more enigmatic "vacuum dark energy" that is causing the expansion of the Universe to accelerate.

The VSA is a collaborative project between the Astrophysics Group at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory, Manchester University's Jodrell Bank Observatory, and the Instituto de Astrofi'sica de Canarias (IAC) in Tenerife.

The project is funded by the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PParc) and the IAC.

See also:

28 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
26 Apr 00 | Science/Nature
30 Jun 01 | Science/Nature
30 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
05 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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