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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK


Looking for the 'relics' of the Big Bang

Preparing FUSE for launch

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

In a few days scientists will soon have a new tool to search the "fossil record" of the Big Bang to uncover clues about the evolution of the universe.

Scheduled for launch next week is NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) spacecraft which will observe nearby planets as well as the farthest reaches of the universe.

FUSE's main mission will be the study of hydrogen and deuterium (a form of hydrogen), that were created shortly after the Big Bang some 12 billion years ago.

[ image: What FUSE will see; an ultra-violet galaxy]
What FUSE will see; an ultra-violet galaxy
By looking back to these earliest times astronomers hope to better understand the processes that led to the formation and evolution of stars.

"We think that as stars age deuterium is destroyed," said FUSE project scientist Dr. George Sonneborn.

"Mapping deuterium throughout the Milky Way will give us a better understanding of how elements are mixed, distributed and destroyed."

"The big questions are these: Do we understand the origins of the universe, and do we understand how galaxies evolve?" said Dr. Kenneth Sembach, a FUSE science team member from the Johns Hopkins University.

[ image:  ]
"Because FUSE can observe ultraviolet light that other telescopes can't, we can test in unique ways how deuterium and other elements are circulated within galaxies. That in turn may test the limits of the Big Bang theory."

FUSE was built for NASA by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is the first NASA mission of this scope that has been developed and operated entirely by a university.

FUSE will be launched on June 23 from Cape Canaveral aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket into a circular orbit 477 miles (768 kilometres) above Earth, and will orbit about every 100 minutes.

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