HERA collaborative receives funding to improve telescope

HERA collaborative experiment receives funding to improve telescope
HERA collaborative experiment receives funding to improve telescope
Brown University is taking part in the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) collaborative experiment, which recently received $9.5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to expand the capabilities of its telescope.
 
The project is looking back more than 13.5 billion years ago to the time when the first stars began producing light. They are looking for signals of the hydrogen ionization process, which created the ionized hydrogen found in the universe today, to better understand what the first stars and galaxies were like.
 
“We’re looking back to the time when ionization was still happening,” Brown Assistant Professor of Physics Jonathon Pober, who is a member of the HERA science team, said. “Neutral hydrogen emits radiation at a wavelength of 21 centimeters, and that’s the signal we’re tracking. As reionization happens, and these bubbles of ionized hydrogen start growing, the 21-centimeter signal of neutral hydrogen decreases. So we’re effectively looking for the disappearance of this signal.”
 
The array itself currently comprises 19 radio dishes located near Carnarvon, South Africa, but the new funding from the National Science Foundation will allow the experiment to install a further 221 dishes by 2018. Brown’s role in the experiment, which is led by the University of California at Berkeley, is to confirm the signal once found.
 
“The signal we’re looking for is really faint, so we need a bevy of tools for discriminating that signal from all the other stuff we might be seeing,” Pober said. “When we detect a signal, and I truly hope we will, it’s going to take a lot of convincing — both internally within the experiment and externally — that the signal is real, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on at Brown. And if we can confirm that signal, we’ll be documenting a cornerstone event in cosmic history.”

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