November 2018    
         
         
 
     
     
  Photogenic  
     
     
  The South Pole Telescope points its most powerful camera yet at the big bang's light.  
     
     
   
 
     
  Located at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, the South Pole Telescope sits atop a two-mile-thick ice sheet, where the extremely low temperatures mean there is almost no atmospheric water vapor. (Photo courtesy Jason Gallicchio)  
     
 
     
     
  Deep in Antarctica, at the southernmost point on the planet, sits a 33-foot telescope designed for a single purpose: to make images of the oldest light in the universe.  
     
     
  This light, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), was produced in the intensely hot aftermath of the big bang--before atoms were formed.  
     
     
  "This relic light is still incredibly bright," says UChicago astrophysicist Bradford Benson, "literally outshining all the stars that have ever existed in the history of the universe by over an order of magnitude in energy."  
     
     
  Because most of that energy is in the microwave part of the spectrum, we need special detectors in high and dry places to "see" it, and the South Pole is the best place on Earth to do so.  
     
     
  The South Pole Telescope, which went online in 2007 and was designed to measure the CMB, has opened its third-generation camera for a multiyear survey to observe the earliest instants of the universe.  
     
     
   
 
     
  The new camera for the South Pole Telescope, SPT-3G, improves the sensitivity of its predecessor by nearly an order of magnitude, making it among the most sensitive CMB instruments ever built.  
     
 
     
     
  These primordial particles of light, which have journeyed across the cosmos for 14 billion years, provide clues about how the universe looked at the beginning of time and how it has changed since.  
     
     
  "Being able to detect and analyze the CMB, especially with this level of detail, is like having a time machine to go back to the first moments of our universe," says UChicago's John Carlstrom, South Pole Telescope project principal investigator.  
     
     
  Such cosmic "baby pictures" will allow scientists to better understand neutrinos, dark energy, dark matter, early star formation, and maybe even gravitational waves, by comparing them to how the universe looks now--all grown up.
-- Louise Lerner and Jared Sagoff
 
     
 
 
 
     
  Five more scope scoops  
     
     
 
     
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Wendy Freedman, UChicago University Professor and cofounder of the Giant Magellan Telescope project, talks to the Big Brains podcast about what the world's biggest telescope might reveal.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Observatories around the world unite to create a virtual Earth-sized telescope to catch sight of a black hole.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Yerkes Observatory--where astronomy greats like George Ellery Hale (founder), Edwin Hubble, and Gerard Kuiper conducted research--has closed its doors.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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The "mother of Hubble" discusses a lesser-known observatory that occupies a space in her heart.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Sometimes cutting-edge technology, like the Extreme Universe Space Observatory, needs a lift from old-fashioned tools, like a giant balloon. And sometimes a giant balloon springs a giant leak.
 
     
 
     
 
         
         
    Spotlight    
         
         
 
     
     
  Lunar lesson  
     
     
   
 
     
  In 1610 Galileo Galilei published Sidereus nuncius (Starry Messenger), which includes illustrations of the moon, as observed through his telescope. (Rare Books Collection, apf6-01298, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)  
     
 
     
     
  What type of telescope detects the shortest wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum? What was Galileo's annual salary after he turned a telescope to the night sky? Which sports did Edwin Hubble play at UChicago?  
     
     
  Find the answers and much more at Multiwavelength Astronomy, a collection of web-based lessons for high school students presented by practicing scientists or from the perspective of historical figures who significantly contributed to astronomical progress.  
     
     
  The project is offered by eCUIP, an initiative of the Chicago Public Schools, the University of Chicago Internet Project, and the University of Chicago Library.  
     
     
  Answers: gamma ray telescope; 1,000 gold florins; basketball and boxing.  
     
 
 
     
  In case you missed it  
     
 
 
Limber: Ancient toddlers climbed trees with the help of a highly mobile big toe.
 
 
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  Support UChicago Physical Sciences.  
     
 
     
 
     
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