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

by

[/caption]

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


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
p
Guest
p
January 7, 2009 10:16 PM

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…

pantzov
Guest
pantzov
January 7, 2009 10:56 PM

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 smile

LLDIAZ
Guest
LLDIAZ
January 8, 2009 9:18 AM

“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!

Gorgon
Guest
Gorgon
January 8, 2009 3:35 AM

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

sail4evr
Member
sail4evr
January 8, 2009 4:04 AM

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

Chris Coles
Guest
January 8, 2009 4:16 AM

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

Feenixx
Member
January 8, 2009 4:25 AM

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…

Nancy Atkinson
Guest
January 8, 2009 5:54 AM

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

xaos
Guest
xaos
January 8, 2009 6:51 AM

“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”

Prime
Member
Prime
January 8, 2009 4:39 PM

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

Jim Krug
Member
Jim Krug
January 8, 2009 9:47 AM

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

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
January 8, 2009 10:00 AM

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.

bugzzz
Member
bugzzz
January 8, 2009 11:16 AM

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

Phil
Guest
Phil
January 8, 2009 2:16 PM

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

George
Member
George
January 8, 2009 2:57 PM

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

Peter
Guest
Peter
January 8, 2009 4:25 PM

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?

Identity4
Guest
Identity4
January 9, 2009 3:59 AM

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

Eric Near Buffalo
Guest
Eric Near Buffalo
January 9, 2009 10:04 AM

@ Identity4

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

Dang.

Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
January 9, 2009 1:34 PM
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… Read more »
Felix Shrodinger
Guest
January 10, 2009 4:03 AM
wpDiscuz