A mysterious screen of extra-loud radio noise permeates the cosmos, preventing astronomers from observing heat from the first stars. The balloon-borne ARCADE instrument discovered this cosmic static (white band, top) on its July 2006 flight. The noise is six times louder than expected. Astronomers have no idea why.
Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission (ARCADE) is a program which utilizes balloon satellite instrument package intended to measure the heating of the universe by the first stars and galaxies after the big bang and search for the signal of relic decay or annihilation. In July 2006 a very strong radio source has been found using the radiometer.
ARCADE viewed about 7% of the sky. The observed region is colored on this all-sky radio map. The plane of our galaxy, the Milky Way, runs across the center.
ARCADE has been funded by the NASA's Science Mission Directorate under the Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis Suborbital Investigation program. The program is composed of a team led by Alan Kogut of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. ARCADE was launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, conducted under the auspices of the Balloon Program Office at Wallops Flight Facility. The balloon flew to an altitude of 120,000 feet (37 km), viewing about 7% of the sky during its observations.
The craft contained 7 radiometers which were cooled to 2.7 K (−270.45 °C; −454.81 °F) using liquid helium, with the intent to measure temperature differences as small as 1/1000 of a degree against a background which is only 3 K (−270.15 °C; −454.27 °F). The optics in the instrument package were placed near the top of the dewar flask which cooled them in order to prevent the instruments from seeing the walls of the container, thereby simplifying the processing of the observational data. This design choice necessitated the use of superfluid pumps in order to drench the radiometers in liquid helium. The design also utilized heaters in order to create a cloud of helium gas, in place of using a (relatively warm) window, which also simplified processing of the observational data.
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