CIBER Observes Blue Light Spectrum of Cosmic Background Infrared Light Detected by Spitzer Space Telescope

Space scientists believe this indicates the universe between galaxies is brighter than first thought

Space news (November 26, 2014) In the dark space between galaxies – 

Using two CIBER (Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment) suborbital sounding rockets launched between 2010 and 2012, NASA space scientists recently tried to settle a question concerning the discovery of a greater amount of cosmic background infrared light in the universe than predicted by theory. NASA astronomers previously detected this excess background infrared light using the Spitzer Space Telescope.

“It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery,” said Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. “Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large.”

Currently, theories suggest two possible scenarios: this infrared light originates from either stream of stars that have been flung into the depths of space during encounters between galaxies or from the first galaxies that formed in the universe around 13.8 billion years ago. 

Using suborbital rockets NASA space scientists took wide-field images of the cosmic infrared background at two infrared wavelengths, shorter than those detected originally by the Spitzer Space Telescope. 

Using this data they made a map of the fluctuations in the cosmic infrared background light by eliminating the light from bright stars, galaxies and local sources closer to our own Milky Way. By measuring the brightness of these fluctuations scientists can determine the total volume of cosmic infrared background light in the universe.  

NASA space scientists discovered a greater volume of infrared light than the galaxies alone can generate. Excess infrared light with a blue spectrum, which indicates it increases in brightness at shorter wavelengths. Scientists think this infrared light emanates from orphan stars flung out into the darkness during encounters between galaxies.      

“We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions,” said Michael Zemcov, lead author of a new paper describing the results from the rocket project and an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”

“The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies,” said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. “The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves.”

NASA space scientists will now design new experiments to determine whether orphan stars could be the source of the excess cosmic background infrared light detected. These stray stars should still be in the vicinity of their parent galaxy if they were flung out during galactic encounters. They’ll also begin measuring more of the infrared spectrum to try to determine how stars could be stripped from their parent galaxies. 

For more information on NASA’s CIBER experiment go here.

To discover more about all of NASA’s current and future missions visit here.

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