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Mystery of the Background Glow of the Universe --A New Theory Emerges



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A new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggests a cause for the mysterious glow of infrared light seen across the entire sky. It comes from isolated stars beyond the edges of galaxies. These stars are thought to have once belonged to the galaxies before violent galaxy mergers stripped them away into the relatively empty space outside of their former homes.

"The infrared background glow in our sky has been a huge mystery," said Asantha Cooray of the University of California at Irvine, lead author of the new research published in the journal Nature. "We have new evidence this light is from the stars that linger between galaxies. Individually, the stars are too faint to be seen, but we think we are seeing their collective glow."

The findings disagree with another theory explaining the same background infrared light observed by Spitzer. A group led by Alexander "Sasha" Kashlinsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., proposed in June this light, which appears in Spitzer images as a blotchy pattern, is coming from the very first stars and galaxies.

In the new study, Cooray and colleagues looked at data from a larger portion of the sky, called the Bootes field, covering an arc equivalent to 50 full Earth moons. These observations were not as sensitive as those from the Kashlinsky group's studies, but the larger scale allowed researchers to analyze better the pattern of the background infrared light.  

"We looked at the Bootes field with Spitzer for 250 hours," said co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Studying the faint infrared background was one of the core goals of our survey, and we carefully designed the observations in order to directly address the important, challenging question of what causes the background glow."

The team concluded the light pattern of the infrared glow is not consistent with theories and computer simulations of the first stars and galaxies. Researchers say the glow is too bright to be from the first galaxies, which are thought not to have been as large or as numerous as the galaxies we see around us today. Instead, the scientists propose a new theory to explain the blotchy light, based on theories of "intracluster" or "intrahalo" starlight.

Theories predict a diffuse smattering of stars beyond the halos, or outer reaches, of galaxies, and in the spaces between clusters of galaxies. The presence of these stars can be attributed to two phenomena. Early in the history of our universe as galaxies grew in size, they collided with other galaxies and gained mass. As the colliding galaxies became tangled gravitationally, strips of stars were shredded and tossed into space. Galaxies also grow by swallowing smaller dwarf galaxies, a messy process that also results in stray stars. "A light bulb went off when reading some research papers predicting the existence of diffuse stars," Cooray said. "They could explain what we are seeing with Spitzer."

More research is needed to confirm this sprinkling of stars makes up a significant fraction of the background infrared light. For instance, it would be necessary to find a similar pattern in follow-up observations in visible light. NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) might finally settle the matter for good.

"The keen infrared vision of the James Webb Telescope will be able to see some of the earliest stars and galaxies directly, as well as the stray stars lurking between the outskirts of nearby galaxies," said Eric Smith, JWST's deputy program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The mystery objects making up the background infrared light may finally be exposed."




The image above shows a mysterious, background infrared glow captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Using Spitzer, researchers were able to detect this background glow, which spreads across the whole sky, by masking out light from galaxies and other known sources of light (the masks are the gray, blotchy marks).

The scientists find that this light is coming from stray stars that were torn away from galaxies. When galaxies tangle and merge -- a natural stage of galaxy growth -- stars often get kicked out in the process. The stars are too faint to be seen individually, but Spitzer may be seeing their collective glow.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Spitzer Space Telescope





the "deeper" we peer into the far reaches of the universe the more we seem to find, as if there is no "edge" there and it just goes on and on ... now IF there was a Big Bang then the most distant images we should see should eventually go dark until we get to incredible brightness, since, according to Big Bang theorists, we are "looking back in time" and the earliest moments would be the explosion which would be impossibly bright ... but that's no what we see - Big Bang is looking like it is an incorrect theory and the infinitely nesting spheres or multiverse models are likely more accurate

So, these stars were not included with the gravity bunch? Can that theory be utilized in our own system? Can planets be excluded from a gravity group? Are planetary/star bodies meandering happily just outside the Oort cloud?

I agree, radii . . .

I think science has generally accepted the fact that if we ever do happen to discover the origin of what we call existence (not of us, but of the entire cosmos), it will be more bizarre or exotic than we could every imagine.

In fact, I think the bigger question of "how did the universe as we know it start" has been overtaken by "why the heck is all the stuff [aka existence] here anyway!"

I know a lot of books have been written about that question in the past few years, but the fundamental question of, "why is there something here instead of nothing" is the critical one, IMHO.

The very fact that things exist (from galactic clusters, right down to the pencil on your desk) is absolutely stunning in its own right. The "how did it get here" is indeed fascinating, but when I simply look at a rock, the question of why it's here instead of nothing is simply awe-inspiring.

And to think, even though we're only recently "sentient/aware", humans actually have a chance to not only participate in the big show of existence, but to actually observe the wonder of it all.

I'd call that a pretty good shake!

@radii: it even gets more bizarre.

While the age of the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years, the diameter of the observable universe is estimated at about 28 billion parsecs (93 billion light-years). And we will still not be able to see the big bang light.

* spacetime is not flat, but expanding sice the big bang. This means that objects that emitted light 13.7 billion years ago are about 93 billion light-years away today.

* Inflation theorie says that spacetime was expanding heavily (a lot faster than light ...) after the big bang. This implies that you can not see the light of the big bang, because it was driven "out of sight" during inflation.

1) “With a traditional optical telescope, the space between stars and galaxies (the background) is completely dark. However, a sufficiently sensitive radio telescope shows a faint background glow, almost exactly the same in all directions, that is not associated with any star, galaxy, or other object”.


2) “Cosmic background radiation is well explained as radiation left over from an early stage in the development of the universe, and its discovery is considered a landmark test of the Big Bang model of the universe” -

AD 1: This statement of course depends on the ability to measure far enough into deep space and therefore such statements are only of temporary validity. So, “background glow” can easily come from different but undiscovered objects anyway.

AD 2: Logically, the “cosmic radiation background radiation” as such is therefore not “well explained” at all and it certainly cannot be taken as the “landmark test” of the Big Bang model.

- It is my opinion that most of the infrared glow also shall be connected to the “aether concept”, the philosophical “heavenly sea” or the mythical and eternal “Primeval Waters” in which all cosmic objects are floating in this hydrogenic fluid that creates the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Modern cosmology scientists can learn a lot of the mythical and cyclic world view.

With the linear concept of the “Big Bang”, scientists are shooting themselves in their feets and together with the dominant gravity theory, they´ll keep coming up with more contra dictionary questions than plausible answers.

I hate it when I shoot myself in my feets with contra dictionary questions

Big Bang theory lacks serious proof, so I choose not to believe in it at all.

No proper lab-tests, for starters. No statistical info about other times but, supposedly, one. What science is that? Mere joke!

I start ever so slightly believing when scientists have reliable information about at least 100 similar full-scale bangs of comparable effects and I'd think I'd trust them when they learn to duplicate the thing perfectly at any given point of time and space.

Politely Tsap

PS. Needs fresh evidence, too. Background radiation goes bad in 13.7 billion years. More power to LHC, I say.

Well first of all its is a good news, if infrared light is found somewhere then we can conclude that life is possible somewhere. Because there must be some source from which infrared light is emitting. Just like Sun.

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