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Cosmic Microwaves Tell Tale as Old as Time

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Posted January 8, 2019

Hot spots in the cosmic microwave background tell us about the history and evolution of distant quasars.

Using data from ALMA, a team of astronomers studied the growth and evolution of bubbles of hot plasma produced by active quasar HE 0515-4414. The bubble was analyzed by observing its effect on light from the cosmic microwave background. It is the first time this method has been used to directly study outflows from quasars.

Cosmic microwave background radiation is the first light in the cosmos. The light we see began its journey when the universe was just 380,000 years old, when the temperature of the universe had finally dropped to the point where the primordial plasma of electrons and protons cooled enough to form transparent hydrogen gas.

At first, the cosmic background was a nearly perfect blackbody spectrum. A blackbody spectrum is the spectrum of light caused by the temperature of an object. Sunlight, for example, is also a blackbody spectrum. Shortly after it first appeared, the cosmic blackbody was an orange glow, but during its 13.7 billion year journey the expansion of the universe shifted it to infrared and then microwave radiation. We now see this background as a faint glow of microwave light coming from all directions.

Hot spots in the cosmic microwave background tell us about the history and evolution of distant quasars. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

Hot spots in the cosmic microwave background tell us about the history and evolution of distant quasars. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

 

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