New Technique to Calculate Rayleigh Scattering May Reveal the Origins of the Universe

First Posted: May 29, 2015 07:37 AM EDT

A new technique may be able to isolate sunlight and help illuminate the universe's birth. Astrophysicists have created a new method for calculating the effect of Rayleigh scattering on photons, potentially allowing researchers to better understand the formation of the universe.

Rayleigh scattering is what causes the sky to appear blue; the sun's photons are scattered by molecules in the atmosphere. In this case, the researchers probed the effect of Rayleigh scattering on the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is the oldest light in the universe that originated when electrons combined with protons to form the very first atoms.

"Detecting the Rayleigh signal is challenging because the frequency range where Rayleigh scattering has the biggest effect is contaminated by 'noise' and foregrounds, such as galactic dust," said Elham Alipour, the lead author of the new study, in a news release.

In this case, the researchers used different high-frequency channels to observe the CMB and then combined this information. This allowed the scientists to better isolate the Rayleigh signal.

So what does this mean? The calculation of the effects of Rayleigh scattering on cosmology may just help us better understand the formation of our universe 13.6 billion years ago.

"The CMB sky is a snapshot of the early universe, it is a single frame in the movie of the universe, and we have shown that Rayleigh signal gives us another fainter snapshot of the same scene at a slightly different time," said Kris Sigurdson, one of the researchers.

The findings are published in the journal Physical Review D.

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