Astronomers have detected regular patterns in what they call the afterglow of creation that they believe were caused by shock waves shortly after the universe was born. They provide the most precise image yet of the Big Bang explosion that created the universe 12 to 15 billion years ago.

They were obtained by the Boomerang (Balloon Observations of Millimetric Extragalactic Radiation and Geophysics) experiment. Boomerang is an extremely sensitive microwave telescope that was carried by a balloon that circumnavigated the Antarctic in late 1998. The balloon carried the telescope at an altitude of 120,000 feet for 10 days.

?The early universe was full of sound waves compressing and rarefying matter and light, much like sound waves compress and rarefy air inside a flute or trumpet,? said Italian team leader Paolo deBernardis. ?For the first time, the new data show clearly the harmonics of these waves.?

The intense radiation that filled the early universe is still detectable today as a faint glow of microwave radiation known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB) that comes from all directions in space. Boomerang images reveal hundreds of complex regions visible as tiny variations in the intensity of the CMB. The new results show the first evidence of a regularity in these patterns and support the theory that the universe grew from a tiny subatomic region during the violent period of expansion known as the Big Bang.

?Just as the difference in harmonic content allows us to distinguish between a flute or trumpet playing the same note, so the details of the harmonic content imprinted in the CMB allow us to understand the detailed nature of the universe,? said Dr. Barth Netterfield of the University of Toronto.

At first the Boomerang could only reveal one harmonic peak, but now scientists have been able to see more. ?Using a musical analogy, last year we could tell what note we were seeing?if it was C sharp or F flat,? says Andrew Lange, of the California Institute of Technology. ?Now we see not just one, but three of these peaks and can tell not only which note is being played, but also what instrument is playing it. We can begin to hear in detail the music of creation.?

The researchers plan another campaign in the Antarctic in the future, this time to map even fainter images encoded in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background. ?With today?s results, we know for sure that the music is there and we can interpret it,? says John Ruhl of the University of California. ?There is no doubt that by listening carefully, and in new ways, we will learn even more.?

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