Carnegie Mellon astrophysics team report evidence of acoustic oscillation in cosmic microwave background

May 23, 2001

Carnegie Mellon astrophysics team report evidence of acoustic oscillations in the matter distribution of the universe in science

PITTSBURGH-In findings reported today by the journal Science, a team of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Maine astrophysicists say they have confirmed the existence of acoustic oscillations generated shortly after the explosive birth of the universe.

This is the first published evidence that links the existence of acoustic oscillations, or wiggles, in the distribution of both the cosmic microwave background radiation and the distribution of matter throughout the universe. These acoustic "waves" were first found in the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), generated when the universe was a mere 300,000 years old. Now, with the discovery of these oscillations in the matter, scientists have a direct connection between the universe today and the universe as it was more than 10 billion years ago.

"For decades, researchers have theorized that there should be acoustic oscillations in the cosmic background radiation, as well as the matter distribution of the universe," said Carnegie Mellon post-doctoral researcher Christopher Miller, lead author of the paper. "Finally, only a month ago, researchers discovered them in the CMB. Today, we have found these same oscillations in the matter.

"Not only do these results provide support for the Hot Big Bang Inflationary Model, but they also show we understand the physics of the early universe. This physics can take us forward in time, predicting the matter-density distribution from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), or backward in time, predicting the CMB using the distribution of galaxies and clusters of our local universe."

Miller, Carnegie Mellon Assistant Professor of Physics Robert Nichol and University of Maine Associate Professor of Physics David J. Batuski drew their data from three cosmological surveys: the Abell/ACO Cluster Redshift Survey; the IRAS Point Source redshift catalog and the Automated Plate Machine cluster catalog.

Using the astrophysical data, the Carnegie Mellon team was able to take a "snapshot" of a part of the universe as it is and compare it to another "snapshot," or data set, from the universe as it was only 300,000 years after the Big Bang.

"We have worked for several years determining the distribution of galaxy clusters in a large part of the universe," Batuski said. "It is satisfying to have information on such a large number of clusters and volume of space, that we can compare with the structure of the very early universe seen in the CMB."

Last week, similar findings were reported by a team of scientists using a different set of data gathered from the Anglo-Australian Telescope.

Confirmation of the acoustic oscillations means that the Big Bang theory has survived another major test. These measurements confirm that the universe was once hot, fluid-like plasma, in which scientists would expect to see acoustic "waves" in both the photons and matter that comprised the early universe.

"Findings like these show we are starting to understand the general framework of the universe we live in," Nichol said. "In the next decade or two, with tens of times more data, we will continue to test the predictions of our Cosmological Standard Model and determine what is the dark matter and energy."

"Now that we understand this framework, we can decouple the evolution of the universe from the evolution of galaxies and start attacking other fundamental questions like how did galaxies form and why? It's great to be a cosmologist!"

Carnegie Mellon University

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