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The Big Bang

Similar to the modeling of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), astronomers hope to map out the sky in Gravitational Waves. WMAP studies the tiny variations in the temperature of the microwave mackground; this radiation dates back to about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. With gravitational waves, we hope to learn about the Universe at an even younger age (only 10 seconds after the Big Bang). Right after the Big Bang, the Universe was transparent in gravitational waves, This means that we could see all the way back to this time if there were waves that were strong enough to see. Most current theories of the formation of the Universe do not predict strong enough waves from this very early time - although it would be very interesting (and surprising!) if the LISA observatory DID see something. Some recent theories of cosmic strings predict stronger sources of gravitational waves, but there is not general agreement that these theories are true.

What the LISA observatory CAN tell us about the Big Bang are some important clues about how matter clumped to form the large-scale structures that we see today - galaxies. Scientists suspect that there may be very large (a million times the mass of the Sun) black holes at the centers of most (if not all) galaxies. LISA is very good at studying the gravitational waves emitted as black holes collide and as they gather mass from other stars that spiral in, and this will give us important information about how these large black holes (and therefore the surrounding galaxies) form and grow.

WMAP modeling of CMB
WMAP result showing the fluctuations in the temperature of the CMB.

Publication Date: August, 2003
Updated: February, 2006

Imagine the Universe is a service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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