There is no way an explosion as epic as the Big Bang could have happened without leaving some major phenomenon in its wake. Enter cosmic microwave background radiation.
Seeker reports CMB radiation is the closest thing we have to a portal that takes us billions of years back to when the universe began to expand. That is mind-blowing in itself. What is almost unreal about these cosmic remains of heat generated by the Big Bang is that the whole cosmic microwave background has a uniform temperature that hovers just above absolute zero (the lowest possible temperature allowed by the laws of physics).
Because of its eerie uniformity, even the slightest variations on a micro level must be factored into the ever-changing map of the CMB. This is why scientists constantly need new ways of observing it, even though it has previously been observed through the lens of spacecraft and even an upgraded 747, they’re now looking to level up to a hybrid airship.
Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10—half steampunk zeppelin, half aircraft from the future—can fly for extended periods when piloted remotely. This hybrid does less damage to the environment by using a mashup of buoyant gas and aerodynamics to stay afloat. It doesn’t even need an airport. This “new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft”, as Hybrid Air Vehicles refers to its brainchild, has twenty times the observation capacity of a 747, meaning that much more time floating out there, meaning weeks’ worth of observations.
A proposal to use the Airlander 10 for this purpose was recently published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society by Stephen Feeney, a postdoctoral researcher at the Flatiron Institute's Center for Computational Astrophysics in New York City, and colleagues.
“Obtaining high-sensitivity measurements of degree-scale cosmic microwave background (CMB) polarization is the most direct path to detecting primordial gravitational waves,” Feeney and colleagues said. The believe the Airlander 10 is capable of “high-fidelity observations at multiple frequencies.”
Hi-fi observations are just one facet of what Feeney wants to accomplish. His team is also investigating how to operate CMB detectors at higher and higher elevations. Galaxies and the CMB emit radiation at the same wavelength, which can get confused easily. This is why the team are also trying to figure out how not to mistake radiation emitted by a galaxy for radiation emitted by either another galaxy or by the CMB.
Feeney also sees the Airlander 10 as an opportunity to launch a search for gravitational waves that first spawned when the universe was insanely expanding after the Big Bang. Such a signal could help us understand how much gravitational waves have impacted the CMB, though it hasn’t been observed—yet.
“[The Airlander 10] could play a key role in defining our ultimate view of the polarized microwave sky,” Feeney argued in the proposal.
You may never look up at the night sky the same way again.