The University of California, San Diego has announced grants totaling $40 million over five years from the Simons Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation for a new observatory that will measure the cosmic microwave background (CMB) of the early universe.
Building on two existing facilities in the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope and the Simons Array, the Simons Observatory, when completed, will search more than half the sky for the signature of gravitational waves generated milliseconds after the Big Bang. Gravitational waves are created by violent expansion in the fabric of space called inflation, a leading theory about the beginning of the universe. The waves induce faint but characteristic polarization patterns in the CMB at radio wavelengths that can be detected by specialized telescopes and cameras.
Funding for the project — $38.4 million from the Simons Foundation and $1.7 million from the Heising-Simons Foundation — will support the development and deployment of new technologies aimed at exploring the CMB, the nature of dark energy, the properties of neutrinos, and how gravity imposed structure on the early universe.
"We have this beautiful edifice of everything that's happened in the universe and the laws of physics since about a second after the Big Bang," said Brian Keating, a professor of physics at UCSD’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. "But we want to go back orders of magnitude — perhaps as many as thirty orders of magnitude farther back in time or higher in temperature. We’re trying to understand the nature of matter and energy and understand the first moments of the universe, potentially what brought it into existence."