A new Caltech project, called COMAP, will offer us a new glimpse into the early epoch of galaxy assembly.

New COMAP radio survey will peer beneath the “tip of the iceberg” of galaxies to unveil a hidden era of star formation.

Sometime around 400 million years after the birth of our universe, the first stars began to form. This marked the end of the universe’s so-called dark ages, and a new light-filled era began. Over time, more and more galaxies began to take shape and served as factories for churning out new stars. This process reached a peak approximately 4 billion years after the Big Bang.

Luckily for astronomers, this bygone era can still be observed. Distant light takes time to reach us, and powerful telescopes can pick up light emitted by galaxies and stars billions of years ago (our universe is 13.8 billion years old). However, the details of this chapter in our universe’s history are fuzzy because most of the stars being formed at the time are faint and hidden by dust.

astronomy, astrophysics, california institute of technology

COMAP’s 10.4-meter “Leighton” radio dish at Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Credit: OVRO/Caltech

A new Caltech project, called COMAP (CO Mapping Array Project), will present us with a new glimpse into this epoch of galaxy assembly. It will help answer questions about what really caused the universe’s rapid increase in the production of stars.

“Most instruments might see the tip of an iceberg when looking at galaxies from this period,” says Kieran Cleary, the project’s principal investigator and the associate director of Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio Observatory (OVRO). “But COMAP will see what lies underneath, hidden from view.”

astronomy, astrophysics, california institute of technology

Kieran Cleary. Credit: Kieran Cleary/Caltech

In the current phase of the project, the 10.4-meter “Leighton” radio dish at OVRO is being used to study the most common kinds of star-forming galaxies spread across space and time. This includes those that are too difficult to view in other ways because they are too faint or hidden by dust. The radio observations trace cold hydrogen gas, the raw material from which stars are made. This gas is not easy to pinpoint directly, so instead COMAP measures bright radio signals from carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which is always present along with the hydrogen. COMAP’s radio camera is the most powerful ever built to detect these radio signals.

The first science results from the project have just been published in seven papers in The Astrophysical Journal. Based on observations taken one year into a planned five-year survey, COMAP set upper limits on how much cold gas must be present in galaxies at the epoch being studied, including the ones that are normally too faint and dusty to see. While the project has not yet made a direct detection of the CO signal, these early results demonstrate that it is on track to do so by the end of the initial five-year survey and ultimately will paint the most comprehensive picture yet of the universe’s history of star formation.

“Looking to the future of the project, we aim to use this technique to successively look further and further back in time,” Cleary says. “Starting 4 billion years after the Big Bang, we will keep pushing back in time until we reach the epoch of the first stars and galaxies, a couple of billion years earlier.”

astronomy, astrophysics, california institute of technology

Tony Readhead. Credit: Caltech

Anthony Readhead, the co-principal investigator and the Robinson Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus, says that COMAP will see not only the first epoch of stars and galaxies, but also their epic decline. “We will observe star formation rising and falling like an ocean tide,” he says.

COMAP works by capturing blurry radio images of clusters of galaxies over cosmic time rather than sharp images of individual galaxies. This blurriness enables the astronomers to efficiently catch all the radio light coming from a larger pool of galaxies, even the faintest and dustiest ones that have never been seen.

“In this way, we can find the average properties of typical, faint galaxies without needing to know very precisely where any individual galaxy is located,” explains Cleary. “This is like finding the temperature of a large volume of water using a thermometer rather than analyzing the motions of the individual water molecules.”

These findings are the subject of a Focus Issue in the Astrophysical Journal, which contains links to the published papers.

The project has received funding from the Keck Institute for Space Studies (for critical early technology development) and from the National Science Foundation (NSF), for building the “Pathfinder” early phase of the project and performing the survey. The project is a collaboration between Caltech; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed by Caltech for NASA; New York University; Princeton University; Stanford University; Université de Genève; University of Oslo; The University of Manchester; University of Maryland; University of Miami; and the University of Toronto (including the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics).

TECH NEWS RELATED

Alain Aspect, Nobel-winning father of quantum entanglement

Alain Aspect, one of three physics Nobel winners, helped pave the way for what he calls the ‘second quantum revolution’ Alain Aspect, who won a long-expected Nobel Physics Prize on Tuesday, not only helped prove the strange theory of quantum entanglement but also inspired a generation of physicists in ...

View more: Alain Aspect, Nobel-winning father of quantum entanglement

Reports say the CIA is trying to resurrect woolly mammoths

There is a lot of skepticism around the prospect of reviving extinct animals like the woolly mammoth. Despite the skepticism, though, it appears the CIA is going all in on investing in mammoth resurrection tech. With the ongoing changes happening around the globe due to climate change, bringing extinct ...

View more: Reports say the CIA is trying to resurrect woolly mammoths

The Mediterranean Sea Rising Temperatures Trigger the Formation of CO2-emitting Crystals

According to the United Nations Climate Action, as the ocean warms from the excess heat and energy, there are unmatched cascading effects, resulting in ice melting, sea level rise, marine heat waves, and ocean acidification. More concerning climate change indicators include the oceans’ inability to absorb heat generated by rising greenhouse ...

View more: The Mediterranean Sea Rising Temperatures Trigger the Formation of CO2-emitting Crystals

Ancient chemistry may explain why living things use ATP as the universal energy currency

Molecular dynamic simulation of ADP and acetyl phosphate. Credit: Aaron Halpern, UCL (CC-BY 4.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) A simple two-carbon compound may have been a crucial player in the evolution of metabolism before the advent of cells, according to a new study published October 4 in the open access journal PLOS ...

View more: Ancient chemistry may explain why living things use ATP as the universal energy currency

New book examines gender on legal response to domestic violence

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain Over the past 40 years, considerable progress has been made in lowering rates of domestic violence (DV) in our communities. However, this progress has been uneven due to continuing misconceptions about the causes and dynamics of domestic violence. “Gender and Domestic Violence: Contemporary Legal Practice ...

View more: New book examines gender on legal response to domestic violence

Study: Black prosecutors are more punitive toward Black and Latinx defendants

Credit: CC0 Public Domain Prosecutors exert considerable power in the criminal justice system, and while defendants are predominantly Black and Latinx, prosecutors are overwhelmingly White. Despite calls for addressing racial disparities in this field, we know little about whether recruiting minority prosecutors would yield more equitable outcomes for defendants. ...

View more: Study: Black prosecutors are more punitive toward Black and Latinx defendants

Online fandom communities can facilitate state censorship, according to new research

Analytical procedure. Credit: New Media & Society (2022). DOI: 10.1177/14614448221113923 Authoritarian regimes worldwide have embraced the digital age. And they have been generally effective at limiting the online presence of perceived adversaries within their borders—from intellectual dissidents to transnational activists. However, as a new study published in the journal ...

View more: Online fandom communities can facilitate state censorship, according to new research

Nirit Weiss-Blatt

Dr. Nirit Weiss-Blatt is the author of The TECHLASH and Tech Crisis Communication. She is a former Research Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her expertise is in tech journalism. She is a contributor to Techdirt, and also has published in Newsweek ...

View more: Nirit Weiss-Blatt

How many innocent people is the plea bargain sending to prison?

Spectacular Planetary-Scale “Heat Wave” Discovered in Jupiter’s Atmosphere

Plastic gobbling enzymes in worm spit may help ease pollution

Holmes gets new hearing after disheveled gov’t witness shows up at her house

Both sides dig in as EPA's final decision on Pebble Mine nears

Quantum entanglement: the 'spooky' science behind physics Nobel

The Nobel winners who helped prove quantum 'spooky action'

Making tumor diagnosis kinder to kidneys

A quick look at the 2022 Nobel Prizes

China begins recruitment for 4th batch of astronauts

Four from MIT receive NIH New Innovator Awards for 2022

Harpoon heads, sweeping tails: How predatory mosquito larvae capture prey

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News