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Dec 16, 2013 02:04 PM EST

Rare Deep Space Light Distortions May Hold Clues to the Universe's Formation and the Big Bang

Scientists have picked up a strange distorted signal from the oldest source of light in the universe that could provide clues supporting the Big Bang theory, according to a press release.

Using the South Pole Telescope, scientists observed patterns known as "B-modes," which occur when a massive object bends a light source, like a lens. These B-modes interacted with matter from very early in the history of the universe, some 400,000 years after the Big Bang.

John Carlstrom, the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, lead the research team. The multi-institutional team published their work Sept. 30 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

"The detection of B-mode polarization by South Pole Telescope is a major milestone, a technical achievement that indicates exciting physics to come," Carlstrom said in the release.

A sea of light particles, known as photons, provide a cosmic microwave background for the remnants of the Big Bang at a chilly temperature of -270 Celsius, just three degrees above absolute zero.

"The detection of a primordial B-mode polarization signal in the microwave background would amount to finding the first tremors of the Big Bang," said study lead author Duncan Hanson, a postdoctoral scientist at McGill University in Canada.

The patterns identified by the scientists can be used to map out the universe's distribution of mass and its cosmological placement. There is not currently definitive proof of the theory of inflation following the Big Bang, but with a better understanding of the universe's infancy, thanks to B-modes, it may be possible.

"The new result shows that this noise can be accounted for and subtracted off so that scientists can search for and hopefully measure the inflationary B modes underneath," Hanson said. "The lensing signal itself can also be used by itself to learn about the distribution of mass in the universe."

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