Press Release

New view of primordial helium traces the structure of early universe

By SpaceRef Editor
August 10, 2001
Filed under ,

Saint-Hubert, August 9, 2001- NASA’s Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer
(FUSE) satellite has given astronomers their best glimpse yet of the ghostly
cobweb of helium gas left over from the Big Bang, which underlies the
universe’s structure. The helium is not found in galaxies or stars but
spread thinly through the vastness of space.


The observations help confirm theoretical models of how matter in the
expanding universe condensed into a web-like structure pervading all of the
space between galaxies. The helium traces the architecture of the universe
back to very early times. This structure arose from small gravitational
instabilities seeded in the chaos just after the Big Bang.


“Visible galaxies are only the peaks in the structure of the early universe.
The FUSE observations of ionized helium show us the details of the hills and
valleys between the mountain tops,” says Gerard Kriss, leader of the FUSE
observing team and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in
Baltimore, MD.


“This is a very exciting discovery. The search for the spectral signatures
of a forest of ionized helium gas in the early universe was one of the major
objectives of the FUSE mission, and it has been fulfilled spectacularly,”
says Dr. George Sonneborn, FUSE Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.


“We designed FUSE for major investigations like this. The excellent results
come from a combination of the instrument performance and the good target
quasar used,” said Dr. John Hutchings of the Herzberg Institute of
Astrophysics (HIA) of the National Research Council. “FUSE is turning out
many exciting new results that no other telescope can do. Canadians have a
powerful new research tool in orbit.”


The FUSE observations also bolster evidence that the early universe was
re-energized by torrents of radiation from black holes in active galaxies,
and a firestorm of star birth.
The observation was accomplished by using the distant light from a quasar (a
brilliant, active nucleus of a galaxy) to allow FUSE to peer across 10
billion light-years of seemingly empty space to make new and precise
measurements of the universe’s hidden structure.


Canadian involvement in the FUSE program includes the provision, by the
Canadian Space Agency (CSA), of two Fine-Error Sensors (FES). The FES
instruments guide the FUSE satellite to enable it to point in precisely the
right direction to make its exacting scientific observations; they also aid
in the navigation of the satellite. The CSA is also providing two Canadian
astronomers to support FUSE operations and science data analysis at the John
Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore MD throughout the mission.


The Canadian Project Scientist is Dr. John Hutchings of the Herzberg
Institute of Astrophysics (HIA) of the National Research Council in
Victoria, BC; the FUSE Principal Investigator is Dr. Warren Moos at the
Johns Hopkins University. The JHU developed FUSE for NASA and has the
primary responsibility for all aspects of the FUSE project.


The Canadian Space Agency funded and managed the Fine-Error Sensor contract
with COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario. COM DEV also developed the
Instrument Data System, the computer system that controls the FUSE
telescope, under a separate contract with the JHU. Due to the CSA’s
contribution, Canadian astronomers have a guaranteed fraction of FUSE
observing time for their research programs.


The FUSE results are being published in the August 10, 2001 issue of the
journal Science. Canadians John Hutchings and Don Morton are among the
authors of the paper.


The team also plans to use FUSE to look at other quasars to trace the
universe’s structure.


FUSE is a NASA Origins mission, developed and operated by the Johns Hopkins
University in collaboration with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the
Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (France), the Canadian Space Agency, the
University of Colorado, and the University of California. FUSE was launched
on June 24, 1999 on a three-year mission to obtain high-resolution spectra
in the far ultraviolet wavelength region (905-1185 Angstroms) of faint
galactic and extragalactic objects. For further information about FUSE,
visit the mission web site at: http://fuse.pha.jhu.edu.


Note to the Editors
Information and illustration are available on the Canadian Space Agency Web
at:


http://www.space.gc.ca/csa_sectors/space_science/space_astronomy/fes.asp
http://www.space.gc.ca/asc/results2.asp?image_id=Fuse


and via links:


http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/pr/2001/27
http://hubble.stsci.edu/go/news
http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/latest.html and
http://oposite.stsci.edu/pubinfo/pictures.html


About the Canadian Space Agency


Established in 1989 with its headquarters situated in Saint-Hubert, Quebec,
the Canadian Space Agency coordinates all aspects of the Canadian Space
Program. Through its Space Knowledge, Applications and Industry Development
business line, the CSA delivers services involving: Earth and the
Environment; Space Science; Human Presence in Space; Satellite
Communications; Generic Space Technologies; Space Qualification Services and
Awareness. The Canadian Space Agency is at the forefront of the development
and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and
humanity.


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For more information:
Media Relations Office				John Hutchings 
Canadian Space Agency 				National Research Council 
Tel.: (450) 926-4345 or 4370 			Tel.: (250) 363-0018 


John.hutchings@nrc.ca

Cheryl S. Gundy 					Russ Alexander
Space Telescope Science Institute 		FUSE Project Manager
Office of Public Outreach 			Canadian Space Agency
Tel.: (410) 338-4707 				russ.alexander@space.gc.ca
Gundy@stsci.edu

SpaceRef staff editor.