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John Carlstrom: 10-Billion-Year Afterglow

[ photo: John Carlstrom ]

10-Billion-Year Afterglow

MacArthur fellow and astrophysicist John Carlstrom ’80 is the principal investigator on the South Pole Telescope (SPT) project, funded principally by the National Science Foundation.  Building on previous work by Carlstrom and others on the cosmic microwave background radiation, or CMB, the SPT project aims to further our understanding of dark energy and the origins of the universe by capturing high resolution images of the universe as it existed 14 billion years ago.

The South Pole Telescope—75 feet tall, 280 tons—can measure CMB radiation on a much larger scale than was previously possible. What Carlstrom and his team are seeing is a universe whose galaxies are flying apart. “We’ve learned that parts of the universe that were connected have now become separated by huge distances,” Carlstrom said. 

Scientists long believed that gravity, as explained in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, would slow down the expansion of the universe, but they now have clear proof that the expansion is accelerating. Since all galaxies are moving away from each other and the rate of their movement is accelerating uniformly, scientists theorize that a uniform force—dark energy—must be behind this expansion.  But exactly what it is and how it works remains a mystery—for now.

WHAV Spring 2004
Photo credit: Courtesy of the University of Chicago