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Messengers from the Dark Age

21 Jan 2016, 14:00 UTC
Messengers from the Dark Age
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Astrophysicists dream of putting radiotelescopes on the far side of the moon.[Image Credits: 21stcentech.com]An upcoming generation of radio telescopes will soon let us look back into the dark age of the universe. The new observations can test dark matter models, inflation, and maybe even string theory.The universe might have started with a bang, but once the echoes faded it took quite some while until the symphony began. Between the creation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and the formation of the first stars, 100 million years passed in darkness. This “dark age” has so far been entirely hidden from observation, but this situation is soon to change.The dark age may hold the answers to many pressing questions. During this period, most of the universe’s mass was in form of light atoms – primarily hydrogen – and dark matter. The atoms slowly clumped under the influence of gravitational forces, until they finally ignited the first stars. Before the first stars, astrophysical processes were few, and so the distribution of hydrogen during the dark age carries very clean information about structure formation. Details about both the behavior of dark matter and the size of structures are encoded in these hydrogen clouds. But ...

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