Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Digging Up a Cosmic Past
The Michigan Daily
By Ryan Anderson
University research fellow Christopher Mullis and his international team of astronomers are cosmic archaeologists. Just as conventional archaeologists dig through the accumulated sediment of hundreds and thousands of years to uncover relics from long ago, his group searches the skies for relics of a much younger universe.
Rather than shovels and picks, they travel back in time using telescopes, and they dig much deeper. They recently discovered an ancient object that pushes the limits of the observational universe to only five billion years after the universe began.
The object that they found is a massive galaxy cluster nine-billion light years away, the farthest ever observed. A light year is the distance light travels in one year, meaning that light from the cluster has been traveling across the vacuum of space for two-thirds the lifetime of the universe. In making the discovery, Mullis worked with astronomers from the European Southern Observatory, the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the Astronomical Institute at Potsdam.