Some chilly plans

Shaul Hanany and team member Asad Aboobaker stand next to EBEX’s “cryostat.” Chilled to nearly absolute zero, the cryostat will contain sensitive CMB detection equipment as EBEX soars above Antarctica.
Shaul Hanany and team member Asad Aboobaker stand next to EBEX’s “cryostat.” Chilled to nearly absolute zero, the cryostat will contain sensitive CMB detection equipment as EBEX soars above Antarctica.
Courtesy Shaul Hanany

Shaul Hanany has already been a part of two high-altitude CMB programs: MAXIMA, to measure CMB intensity, had a five hour flight out of Palestine, Texas, and MAXIPOL, to measure CMB polarization, was launched from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and flew for about 24 hours.

Hanany’s next project, called EBEX, (for the E and B Experiment) has a much more exotic location: Antarctica. To be launched from McMurdo station, EBEX will take a two-week flight around the southern continent. EBEX will be searching for a much fainter signal, which should allow scientists to delve even further into the past, very nearly to the Big Bang itself.

Scientists think that a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang the universe went through an extremely rapid “inflationary event”—a period in which it expanded to trillions of times its former size in the blink of an eye. The inflationary event is a difficult thing to study, but it is thought that the gravity waves it produced left faint traces in the CMB—subtle disturbances called “B-mode polarization.” The EBEX instrument will be much more sensitive than MAXIMA and MAXIPOL, and, with its 14-day flight (a duration not possible above North America), it will have the time to pick up the faint disturbances in the CMB that were seeded by the inflationary event. If Hanany and his team detect the signals they are after, they will have observed the universe at an age of much less than a nanosecond after the Big Bang.

Still being built, EBEX’s detectors will be dozens of times more sensitive that MAXIMA’s and MAXIPOL’s.
Still being built, EBEX’s detectors will be dozens of times more sensitive that MAXIMA’s and MAXIPOL’s.
Courtesy Shaul Hanany

EBEX is still being built, but it should be airborne by winter 2010—in time for the Antarctic summer.