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. Credit: NASA/ARCADE/Roen Kelly

Cosmic Radio Noise Booms Six Times Louder Than Expected

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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Loud sounds tend to startle us. But imagine being surprised by a sound six times louder than you expect. A balloon-borne instrument called ARCADE, (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission) was supposed to be used to search for heat signature from the first stars to form after the Big Bang. Instead it found an unexplained “booming” radio static that fills the sky.

In July 2006, the instrument launched from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, and flew to an altitude of 36,000 meters (120,000 feet) where the atmosphere thins into the vacuum of space. Its mission lasted four hours.

The team, led by Alan Kogut of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said they found the radio noise almost immediately. “We were calibrating the instrument, and we saw this big point in the graph. I said, ‘What the heck is this — this shouldn’t be here.’ We spent the next year trying to make that point go away, but it didn’t.”

shows the extragalactic temperature measured by ARCADE from the 2006 flight

shows the extragalactic temperature measured by ARCADE from the 2006 flight


Detailed analysis has ruled out an origin from primordial stars, user error or a mis-identified galactic emission, and the scientists are sure there aren’t more radio sources than we expect. “Radio source counts are well known and they don’t even come close to making up the detected background,” said Kogut. “New sources, too faint to observe directly would have to vastly outnumber the number everything else in the sky.”

Dale Fixsen of the University of Maryland at College Park, added that to get the signal they detected, radio galaxies would have to be packed “into the universe like sardines,” he said. “There wouldn’t be any space left between one galaxy and the next.”

The sought-for signal from the earliest stars remains hidden behind the newly detected cosmic radio background. This noise complicates efforts to detect the very first stars, which are thought to have formed about 13 billion years ago — not long, in cosmic terms, after the Big Bang. Nevertheless, this cosmic static may provide important clues to the development of galaxies when the universe was less than half its present age. Unlocking its origins should provide new insight into the development of radio sources in the early universe.

“This is what makes science so exciting,” says Michael Seiffert, a team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “You start out on a path to measure something — in this case, the heat from the very first stars — but run into something else entirely, something unexplained.”

ARCADE launches on its July 2006 discovery flight from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. The balloon lofted the instrument to its observation altitude of 120,000 feet. Credit: NASA/ARCADE

ARCADE launches on its July 2006 discovery flight from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. The balloon lofted the instrument to its observation altitude of 120,000 feet. Credit: NASA/ARCADE


ARCADE’s revolutionary design makes it super-sensitive to cosmic noise. Chilled to 2.7 degrees above absolute zero by immersion into more than 500 gallons of liquid helium, each of ARCADE’s seven radiometers alternately views the sky and a calibration target. The project allows for significant high school and undergraduate student participation. ARCADE is the first instrument to measure the radio sky with enough precision to detect this mysterious signal.

This is the same temperature as the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, the remnant heat of the Big Bang that was itself discovered as cosmic radio noise in 1965. “If ARCADE is the same temperature as the microwave background, then the instrument’s heat cannot contaminate the cosmic signal,” Kogut explains.

“We don’t really know what this signal is,” said Seiffert. “We’re relying on our colleagues to to study the data and put forth some new theories.”

Source: NASA, AAS Press Conference


30 Responses

  1. p says:

    This is what i love about science…search for one thing, and out of the blue, find something completely different…something unexpected and unexplained. Some of our best breakthroughs have begun this way.

    The mystery and the ‘coolness’ of the universe continues to awe…

  2. pantzov says:

    very interesting, and thanks for including the link to the chart. unless it is some sort of unknown error, the implications of this could be enormous. i look forward to reading of those new theories. i have a few of my own, but i’ll hold my tongue for now due to ignorance đŸ™‚

  3. LLDIAZ says:

    “radio galaxies would have to be packed “into the universe like sardines,” he said. “There wouldn’t be any space left between one galaxy and the next.”

    Wouldn’t dark matter play a role here in filling in that space between galaxies so that the same affect would take place as if we were packed next to eachother?
    Just a thought!

  4. Gorgon says:

    Dear ARCADE team,

    I’m sorry that I messed up your instruments during the frequent trans-lightspeed trips that I made in this part of the galaxy in 2006. I had NO idea!

    In the future I will use adequate cloaking of all EMR emmisions from the matter antimatter propulsion unit on my ship.

    Sorry
    Gorgon

  5. joe says:

    Gorgon,
    Didn’t you see the speedlimit and no wake notices for FTL starships.
    Everyone is always apologising, but never do anything about it.
    Terran Community Board

  6. Chris Coles says:

    Well done Joe and Gorgon, best laugh I have had in weeks.

  7. Feenixx says:

    Fascinating!

    It’s a wonder there haven’t been any conspiracy theories about it yet….

    61000 meters – I found that hard to believe, for a balloon. So, I typed into Google search: “120000 feet in meters”, and Google reckons it’s 36 576 m….. ah, well…

  8. Sorry — the conversion to meters error was my fault. Its been corrected.

  9. xaos says:

    “and the scientists are sure there isn’t more radio sources than we expect”

    should be:

    “and the scientists are sure there aren’t more radio sources than we expect”

  10. Prime says:

    This just shows that energy flows from a high level, such as gamma ray bursts, and cosmic rays, on down to tired light, cosmic microwave background radiation, and finally radio static.

    Prime

  11. Jim Krug says:

    Maybe this is the long-missing radio transmissions from other advanced civilizations that the SETI program has been supposedly searching for all this time.

    JIm

  12. Kevin says:

    LLDIAZ…that was my first thought too. The dark matter halo’s could be doing this….but I have always heard that this stuff is pretty inert, doesn’t interact with other matter. Hard to believe it would be broadcasting in Radio waves and we never noticed that before.

    But they could be observing something totally new.

  13. robbb says:

    agree with first poster. i love these little mysteries. they fill the mind with possibilities.

  14. Phil says:

    If matter =energy then is this ‘dark energy’?

  15. Helio George says:

    Cool! Noise doesn’t get much better than this!

  16. Peter says:

    So how exactly, have we missed this BOOMING noise up until now? We have VLA’s of radio telescopes and they have never tuned into the right wavelength???
    Booming eh? Intergalactic Rock station?
    Does it boom to a decent beat?

  17. Identity4 says:

    @Peter: Probably just aftershocks from the last Disaster Area concert. It should fade in a few hundred years.

  18. Eric Near Buffalo says:

    @ Identity4

    I figured it would have been from a Dimmu Borgir, Venom or Mayhem concert.

    Dang.

  19. Jon Hanford says:

    This is a perfect example of a serendipitous observation that confronts all of the sciences at one time or another . Discovery of the CMB by Bell scientists, extrasolar GRBs discovered by the DODs’ Vela satellites & the dual, independent discoveries of Dark Energy immediately come to mind when considering an unexpected result unanticipated by the majority of the professional scientific community. I feel privileged to be born at time when scientific discoveries come fast and furious especially due to the transformation and sharing of crucial data via the World Wide Web & other IT applications. Definitely we live in an era when the dissemination of knowledge travels at the speed of electrons & now photons. The pertinent question now is where do we go from here?

  20. fats mcgoo IV says:

    10xcsn, The new super-nova do-daah.
    Whats a macall it. Built by the aliens of Beta-Centari.
    Portuus the super grey alien is hitting a noober ball with his
    Jack over sticks.
    Gaaaapoo.
    Thanks hello, good-bye please and turn off the ice creme machine in Beta-Centari

  21. fats mcgoo IV says:

    Oh, and have a MERRY WEB BOT CHRISTMAS.
    From Portuus….the super-grey alien

  22. Tjips says:

    Firstly, “the noise was six times louder than expected” implies that the measurement in question had never been made before (probably not at that sensitivity). It doesn’t imply that the boom is very loud, only that it is six times louder than expected. Same that a carbon atom is bigger than a hydrogen atom while at the same time still being small.

    BTW I like the hitchhiker’s guide reference (Disaster area) đŸ™‚

    Also, just for accuracy Dark Matter isn’t matter as we are used to thinking of matter i.e. it isn’t made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, it is made up of something entirely different (proof of this comes from measurements of Deuterium abundance in the universe). This doesn’t mean that it can’t be the source of the boom, but it does mean it isn’t necessarily compliant to E=mc^2.

    For some good insights into the what’s and how’s of dark matter and dark energy, check out Astronomy Today (The book, not a website). It puts things in perspective.

  23. Vanamonde says:

    So there may have been a time when young galaxies were all so close, they touch.

    And later, we find massive black holes seem to pre-exist before galaxies…

    Maybe source is the first generation of galactic seeding black holes being formed?

  24. besidomentis says:

    Well this picture shows that amazing thinks happining in center of our galaxy: http://www.part.lt/p-19f3ec3eb0570503c5022a66ca47ce35649.bmp

  25. Liquid Memory says:

    Why don’t we just take it for what it is? It is a sound 6 times greater than we have ever discovered. What my question is?

    Could it be the Horn of Gabriel?

  26. Raven says:

    I thought this was a serious topic? Also, it’s not really a “sound” as sound doesn’t travel well in space. It’s the detection of radio waves which represent a “boom”. However, I think my theory might be possible. I’d just like an experts take on it.

  27. Mem(Brain) says:

    I think death nears.

  28. Or perhaps some life forms in other galaxy are having a big party with big boom box

  29. timmay says:

    “Why don’t we just take it for what it is? It is a sound 6 times greater than we have ever discovered. What my question is?

    Could it be the Horn of Gabriel?”

    Answer: Umm…no.

    Its a frequency. Very pervasive.
    Could be the ‘noise’ made by supermassive
    black holes?
    Early galaxies birthing sound?

    Or just a really big P.A. somewhere?

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