Laserod has recently been working with Stanford University to laser process a part destined for a South Pole Telescope that is exploring the origins of the universe. The telescope, called BICEP 2 (an acronym for (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization), the second in the series of BICEP telescopes, is within walking distance of the geographic South Pole. The BICEP telescopes probe the origins of the universe by studying Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) light, the afterglow from the Big Bang. Stanford’s Dr. Zeeshan Ahmed asked Laserod to pattern a thin aluminum coating on a sheet of flexible, stretchable substrate as an infrared filter for telescopes in the BICEP program.
Telescopes at the South Pole: BICEP2 (right) and South Pole Telescope (left)
BICEP2 is shown above and is located at the far left of the photo inside a dish-antenna-shaped shield. Shown at the far right is a 10-meter reflecting CMB telescope called South Pole Telescope (SPT). BICEP2 will be succeeded by a more advanced, third-generation telescope, called BICEP3, and will occupy the same space shown above. The IR filter that Laserod helped produce will be used in BICEP3 to pass light from the early universe, the CMB, so it can be analyzed for evidence of “inflation”, the faster than the speed of light expansion of the universe when it was a fraction of a second old. So far, inflation is a theory waiting to be proved. CMB telescopes such as BICEP3 might be able to provide this evidence. Inflation is a missing piece of the puzzle of the birth of the universe, the Big Bang.
The filter made by Laserod is blocking the infrared heat radiation from the sky and letting the CMB radiation pass through. The camera that’s recording the Big Bang’s CMB operates at a very low temperature, a quarter of a degree above absolute zero where all motion stops.. Everything at “normal” temperature outside the telescope radiates in the infrared, so this radiation has to be prevented from entering the telescope to let the camera maintain its low temperature.
Actually, the CMB comes to us from 400,000 years after the Big Bang when the universe went transparent. Before that, the universe was too hot and dense to let light travel too far before slamming into electrons. As the universe cooled and electrons combined with protons to form hydrogen atoms, light was able to travel freely through space. If inflation really happened, there is a chance that its gravitational shockwave left an imprint in the polarization of the CMB.
BICEP3 is being built by a collaboration of Stanford, Caltech, JPL, Harvard, U. of Minnesota, NIST, the University of British Columbia and Toronto University. The Stanford Team is lead by Professor Chao-Lin Kuo and postdoctoral fellow Zeeshan Ahmed.