The cosmic dark ages: explaining the early universe with radio signals

The cosmic dark ages: explaining the early universe with radio signals
A false-colour image of the moon © NASA

An astronomy team has observed the moon with a radio telescope to develop our explanation of the early universe, also known as the ‘cosmic dark ages’. The team are searching for the radio signal from the hydrogen atoms of the early universe.

The astronomers are searching for the hydrogen radio signal to confirm the theories of ‘cosmic dark ages’ of the early universe.

The paper has been published today in the Oxford University Press Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The study was led by Dr Benjamin McKinley at Curtin University node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).

The cosmic dark ages

One of the difficulties of learning more about the ‘cosmic dark ages’ is that the radio signal from the early universe is very weak. To observe the radio signal the astronomers need to be able to accurately measure the average brightness of the sky. However, there are several extremely bright objects in the foreground competing for attention, including black holes from other galaxies and electrons in the milky way.

How can radio signals explain the early universe?

The astronomers have used the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope to look for radio signals given off by the hydrogen atoms in the early universe. McKinley said: “The radio telescope, the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) which is located in the Western Australian desert far away from earth-based FM radio stations, takes the radio signals from space and which we can then convert into images of the sky.”

He added: “If we can detect this radio signal it will tell us whether our theories about the evolution of the Universe are correct.Before there were stars and galaxies, the Universe was pretty much just hydrogen, floating around in space…since there are no sources of the optical light visible to our eyes, this early stage of the Universe is known as the cosmic dark ages.”

The future of early universe cosmology

The astronomers hope that in the future they will be able to observe the hydrogen radio signal from the early universe and test out theoretical models of the ‘cosmic dark ages’.

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