University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Research Spotlight

Listening to the Early Universe

Hanany Research group
Shaul Hanany and his group at the launch of the EBEX balloon in Antarctica in 2012
courtesy of Shaul Hanany

Shaul Hanany’s observational cosmology group is flying balloon-borne instruments to search for signatures of the Big Bang. Cosmologists posit that as early as 10 -35 seconds after the Bang, the Universe underwent a period of immense inflation during which its size inflated many trillions fold.

The E and B EXperiment (EBEX) flown in Antarctica in 2012 by Hanany’s group was designed to detect relic remnants of this inflationary period by measuring the intensity and polarization of the so-called ‘Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation’ (CMBR). The CMBR, itself a different relic remnant of the Big Bang, stores a treasure trove of information about early Universe. The dramatic inflationary expansion would have released gravitational waves that imprint their specific signature on the CMBR. These are the signatures that are being sought in the data from the 2012 flight. A direct detection will give key information about the physics of the Big Bang.

Hanany’s group is currently analyzing data from the 2012 run as well as designing and preparing to build the next version of EBEX. The signals that EBEX is searching for are extremely tiny. Hanany describes the process as listening to a whisper in the midst of a rock concert. There is also difficulty in separating the signature of the inflationary period from signal created by dust emission within our own galaxy. The new version of EBEX will have an unprecedented capability to characterize the inflationary signal and separate it from those of our own galaxy. The combination of sensitivity to dust and angular resolution of the CMB signal make the new EBEX a “unique machine”, according to Hanany.

Hanany’s group has already pioneered a number of technologies and hope to continue that tradition with the next generation of balloons. “Worldwide we were the first to use transition edge sensor detectors and to mount large arrays of them on a balloon platform. We were the first to implement a state-of-the-art detector readout system, which has now been adopted by several other groups. And we were the first to use magnetically levitated optical elements on a balloon platform.” Hanany’s group is continuing in this tradition of ushering in new technologies. Among other things, his group is working on an anti-reflective coating that will greatly improve the efficiency of millimeter-wave optical components.

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