spitzer Robotic News
June 7, 2012 20:50:31
NASA's Spitzer Finds First Objects Burned Furiously
By Source: NASA

PASADENA, Calif. -- The faint, lumpy glow given off by the very first objects in the universe may have been detected with the best precision yet, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. These faint objects might be wildly massive stars or voracious black holes. They are too far away to be seen individually, but Spitzer has captured new, convincing evidence of what appears to be the collective pattern of their infrared light.

The observations help confirm the first objects were numerous in quantity and furiously burned cosmic fuel.

"These objects would have been tremendously bright," said Alexander "Sasha" Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., lead author of a new paper appearing in The Astrophysical Journal. "We can't yet directly rule out mysterious sources for this light that could be coming from our nearby universe, but it is now becoming increasingly likely that we are catching a glimpse of an ancient epoch. Spitzer is laying down a roadmap for NASA's upcoming James Webb Telescope, which will tell us exactly what and where these first objects were."

Spitzer first caught hints of this remote pattern of light, known as the cosmic infrared background, in 2005, and again with more precision in 2007. Now, Spitzer is in the extended phase of its mission, during which it performs more in-depth studies on specific patches of the sky. Kashlinsky and his colleagues used Spitzer to look at two patches of sky for more than 400 hours each.

The team then carefully subtracted all the known stars and galaxies in the images. Rather than being left with a black, empty patch of sky, they found faint patterns of light with several telltale characteristics of the cosmic infrared background. The lumps in the pattern observed are consistent with the way the very distant objects are thought to be clustered together.

Kashlinsky likens the observations to looking for Fourth of July fireworks in New York City from Los Angeles. First, you would have to remove all the foreground lights between the two cities, as well as the blazing lights of New York City itself. You ultimately would be left with a fuzzy map of how the fireworks are distributed, but they would still be too distant to make out individually.

"We can gather clues from the light of the universe's first fireworks," said Kashlinsky. "This is teaching us that the sources, or the "sparks," are intensely burning their nuclear fuel."

The universe formed roughly 13.7 billion years ago in a fiery, explosive Big Bang. With time, it cooled and, by around 500 million years later, the first stars, galaxies and black holes began to take shape. Astronomers say some of that "first light" might have traveled billions of years to reach the Spitzer Space Telescope. The light would have originated at visible or even ultraviolet wavelengths and then, because of the expansion of the universe, stretched out to the longer, infrared wavelengths observed by Spitzer.

The new study improves on previous observations by measuring this cosmic infrared background out to scales equivalent to two full moons -- significantly larger than what was detected before. Imagine trying to find a pattern in the noise in an old-fashioned television set by looking at just a small piece of the screen. It would be hard to know for certain if a suspected pattern was real. By observing a larger section of the screen, you would be able to resolve both small- and large-scale patterns, further confirming your initial suspicion.

Likewise, astronomers using Spitzer have increased the amount of sky examined to obtain more definitive evidence of the cosmic infrared background. The researchers plan to explore more patches of sky in the future to gather more clues hidden in the light of this ancient era.

"This is one of the reasons we are building the James Webb Space Telescope," said Glenn Wahlgren, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Spitzer is giving us tantalizing clues, but James Webb will tell us what really lies at the era where stars first ignited."

Other authors are Richard Arendt of Goddard and the University of Maryland in Baltimore County; Matt Ashby and Giovanni Fazio of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.; and John Mather and Harvey Moseley of Goddard. Fazio led the initial observations of these sky fields.

Astronomers have uncovered patterns of light that appear to be from the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. The light patterns were hidden within a strip of sky observed by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

These two panels show the same slice of sky in the constellation Boötes, dubbed the "Extended Groth Strip." The area covered is about 1 by 0.12 degrees.

The top panel show's Spitzer's initial infrared view of this patch, including foreground stars and a confusion of fainter galaxies, seen at a wavelength of 4.5 microns.

In the lower panel, all of the resolved stars and galaxies have been masked out of the image (grey patches), and the remaining background glow has been smoothed and enhanced. This processing reveals structure too faint to be seen in the original image.

The structure of the lower panel matches just what we would expect for the patterns of clusters from the first galaxies formed in the universe. Even though any particular early galaxy would be too faint to see individually, this technique allows astronomers to better understand what things were like shortly after the Big Bang.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

 

More Interactive Photography
Gale CratorInterActive First look crisp look around Gale Crator This 360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the area all around...
Endeavour nose gear in OPFInterActive Endeavour nose gear in OPF This was shot from forward and underneath Space Shuttle Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing...
Endeavor engine compartmentInterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavor engine compartmentInterActive Endeavor engine compartment View into the Space Shuttle's engine compartment with the three main engines removed.
Endeavour Cargo BayInterActive Endeavour Cargo Bay This image was shot from the forward end of Space Shuttle Endeavour's cargo ba as it sits in...
Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. InterActive Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck. Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour aft flight deck.
Endeavour Forward Flight DeckInterActive Endeavour Forward Flight Deck Interior view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour forward flight deck.
Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payloadInterActive Atlas V with Mars Science Laboratory payload The rover Curiosity will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific...
Curiosity roverInterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Curiosity roverInterActive Curiosity rover NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or...
Gravity Recovery and Interior LaboratoryInterActive GRAIL The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission's primary science objectives will be to...
Atlas V AV-029InterActive Atlas V AV-029 ULA Atlas V number AV-029 reaches launch pad on August 4th, 2011. In less than 1 day this Atlas...
Atlas V up closeInterActive Atlas V up close Get to know the Atlas V up close. Explore the rivets in this 74.62 megapixel image of the Atlas...
JUNO Atlas VInterActive JUNO Atlas V ULA Atlas V with the JUNO probe sitting atop at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is ready for...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15InterActive Atlantis on runway Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15InterActive Atlantis at wheels stop on runway 15 Space Shuttle Atlantis returned to Earth in the predawn hours of July 21st, 2011. Marking the...
Atlantis and towerInterActive Atlantis and tower Space shuttle Atlantis waits to receive payload for the final space shuttle mission STS-135,...
Atlantis payload preparationsInterActive Atlantis payload preparations Space shuttle Atlantis at pad 39A. The payload canister can be seen lifted in to position to...
Walk with the astronautsInterActive Walk with the astronauts A view of the 195ft level of the fixed service structure. This where the astronauts arrive at...
Last Space Shuttle prepares for launchInterActive Last Space Shuttle prepares for launch A close in look at space shuttle Atlantis on June 17th. Launch preparations are on going for...
The last space shuttle to be on the launch padInterActive The last space shuttle to be on the launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle to flight begins launch prepartions at pad 39A...
Last space shuttle arrives at launch padInterActive Last space shuttle arrives at launch pad Space shuttle Atlantis is seen here from the top of the rotating service structure the moring...
The last space shuttle has left the buildingInterActive The last space shuttle has left the building Space shuttle Atlantis rolls out of the Vehicle Assembly Building for the last time on the...
Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad   InterActive Space Shuttle Atlantis prepared to rollout to pad Space shuttle Atlantis complete with the solid rocket boosters and external tank that will...
HiRes Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive HiRes Atlantis hanging in VAB HiRes image of Space Shuttle Atlantis hanging in the Vehical Assembly Building. This shot was...
Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5InterActive Atlantis vertical from VAB Level 5 Space Shuttle Atlantis after being lifted into the verticle position before being mated to the...
Atlantis verticalInterActive Atlantis vertical Space Shuttle Atlantis hangs vertical before removing the rear hoist and lifting it for the...
Atlantis rolling verticalInterActive Atlantis rolling vertical Here Space Shuttle Atlantis is almost vertical being positioned to soon be mated to the...
Atlantis hanging in VABInterActive Atlantis hanging in VAB Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen here hanging about 10 feet above the VAB floor. It has justed...
Endeavour at nightInterActive Endeavour at night Space shuttle Endeavour seen here at night as launch preparation continue for the first launch...
Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final missionInterActive Atlantis rolling over to VAB for final mission Space Shuttle Atlantis rolling over the VAB for the last time. Atlantis is scheduled to be the...
Atlantis outside VAB for employee photosInterActive Atlantis outside VAB for employee photos Space shuttle Atlantis, the last space shuttle, pauses during rollover from the OPF to the VAB...
Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttleInterActive Hi Resolution image of the last space shuttle Hi Resolution composit image of the last space shuttle, Atlantis, as it sits atop the transport...
Atlantis in the VABInterActive Atlantis in the VAB Nice 360 degree view of the VAB with Atlantis being preped for the Lift and Mate procedure
Atlantis on the sled in VABInterActive Atlantis on the sled in VAB Explore the VAB with Space Shuttle Atlantis on the sled after rollover to the VAB jst before...
Atlantis being attached to slingInterActive Atlantis being attached to sling Full 360 degree panorama from inside the VAB as Space Shuttle Atlantis is attached to the sling...
Endeavour after RSS retractionInterActive Endeavour after RSS retraction Hi-Res image of Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad 39A minutes after the RSS was...
The Mound STS-134 4/29 AttemptInterActive The Mound STS-134 4/29 Attempt This a 360 degree panorama from the mound of the KSC media center. This was the scence about an...
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS)InterActive Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
AMS in the SSPFInterActive AMS in the SSPF The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, a particle physics detector designed to search for various...
Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunriseInterActive Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise Here is Space Shuttle Endeavour just after sunrise the morning it arrived from the VAB. How...
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Endeavour in the VABInterActive Endeavour in the VAB Space Shuttle Endeavour sitting stacked and ready atop the crawler to rollout the launch pad.
Space Shuttle Discovery final towoverInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery final towover View of Space Shuttle Discovery 4 hours after returning to Earth for the last time. Discovery...
Space Shuttle Discovery Final LaunchInterActive Space Shuttle Discovery Final Launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Space shuttle Discovery final launchInterActive Space shuttle Discovery final launch This a 360 degree panorama taken 3 mile from the launch pad capturing the final lift off of...
Discovery at NightInterActive Discovery at Night This a panorama of Space Shuttle Discovery shortly after RSS retraction on 11/3/2010 preparing...
GRIP DC-8 PanoramaInterActive GRIP DC-8 Panorama Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
GRIP DC-8 InteriorInterActive GRIP DC-8 Interior Interior of forward section of NASA GRIP aircraft while configured for studding hurricane...
NASA GRIP DC-8InterActive NASA GRIP DC-8 The NASA DC-8 is a four-engine jet transport that has been highly modified to support the...
Endeavour on padInterActive Endeavour ready for launch HiRes image of Endeavour at Pad 39A
AMS-2 Antimatter TelescopeInterActive AMS-2 Antimatter Telescope Explore the SSPF and ESA's Antimatter Telescope. 360 rotating,zoomable Panorama!
Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for the last timeInterActive Explore LC-39A !! Spectacular ultra hi-rez interactive shot of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the launch pad for...