New Radio Signal Discovered by Astronomers

UCSB Researchers, Football Field-Sized Balloon Involved in Accidental Find

Cosmic radio noise has been discovered by a team of NASA-funded scientists, two members of which call UCSB home. The sonic find was not the scientists’ intention, however, and how and why the noise exists in the state it does has so far baffled scientists.

The scientists’ mission - named ARCADE (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics and Diffuse Emission) - involved a football field-sized helium balloon that was initially launched to search for heat from the first generation of stars. What the balloon managed to observe instead is radio noise blasting six times more loudly than the scientists expected. The ARCADE balloon, being the first instrument to measure the radio sky with enough precision to detect the mysterious signal, was launched from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas. It began detecting the static in July 2006, but the team’s findings were officially unveiled on January 7 at the 213th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach.

The radio static is much brighter than the combined radio emissions of all galaxies in the universe, suggesting something scientists have yet to figure out must have occurred as galaxies first formed. “It seems as though we live in a darkened room and every time we turn the lights on and explore, we find something new,” said team member Philip Lubin, a UCSB physics professor.

Lindsey Cornish is an Independent intern.

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