South Pole Telescope 3G

Since 2007, astronomers have been observing the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)—light from the Universe when it was only 380,000 years old—with the South Pole Telescope (SPT) at the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The severe conditions in the Antarctic make it an ideal location for such observations. The extremely cold atmosphere holds very little water vapour, a gas that blocks radio waves from space. Plus, the South Pole is located on a 2800-metre-high plateau, so the atmosphere is alpine thin.

Cosmologists use those observations to study large-scale structure in the cosmos. They are also sifting through the CMB for a signal from when the Universe was less than a second old. The signal—referred to as primordial or gravitational-wave B-modes—would be evidence that the Universe experienced a period of accelerated expansion known as inflation.

Prof. Keith Vanderlinde and Dunlap Fellow Tyler Natoli have both investigated the early Universe from the South Pole, working on and making observations with the SPT.

At the Dunlap Institute, they—along with graduate student Matthew Young—work on SPT-3G, the third-generation camera for the Antarctic telescope. Improvements to the instrument’s detectors will increase its sensitivity by an order of magnitude and enable ultra-sensitive studies of the polarization of the microwave sky.

In 2017, Natoli will return to the South Pole to help install the new camera on the SPT.

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South Pole Telescope. Image: Prof. Keith Vanderlinde; U.S. National Science Foundation

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Dunlap Fellow Tyler Natoli and graduate student Matthew Young remove an SPT-3G detector assembly from the cryostat in the Dunlap Institute’s Long Wavelength Lab.