New view of primordial helium traces the structure of early universe

Press Release From: Canadian Space Agency
Posted: Friday, August 10, 2001

Saint-Hubert, August 9, 2001- NASA's Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) satellite has given astronomers their best glimpse yet of the ghostly cobweb of helium gas left over from the Big Bang, which underlies the universe's structure. The helium is not found in galaxies or stars but spread thinly through the vastness of space.

The observations help confirm theoretical models of how matter in the expanding universe condensed into a web-like structure pervading all of the space between galaxies. The helium traces the architecture of the universe back to very early times. This structure arose from small gravitational instabilities seeded in the chaos just after the Big Bang.

"Visible galaxies are only the peaks in the structure of the early universe. The FUSE observations of ionized helium show us the details of the hills and valleys between the mountain tops," says Gerard Kriss, leader of the FUSE observing team and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD.

"This is a very exciting discovery. The search for the spectral signatures of a forest of ionized helium gas in the early universe was one of the major objectives of the FUSE mission, and it has been fulfilled spectacularly," says Dr. George Sonneborn, FUSE Project Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

"We designed FUSE for major investigations like this. The excellent results come from a combination of the instrument performance and the good target quasar used," said Dr. John Hutchings of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA) of the National Research Council. "FUSE is turning out many exciting new results that no other telescope can do. Canadians have a powerful new research tool in orbit."

The FUSE observations also bolster evidence that the early universe was re-energized by torrents of radiation from black holes in active galaxies, and a firestorm of star birth. The observation was accomplished by using the distant light from a quasar (a brilliant, active nucleus of a galaxy) to allow FUSE to peer across 10 billion light-years of seemingly empty space to make new and precise measurements of the universe's hidden structure.

Canadian involvement in the FUSE program includes the provision, by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), of two Fine-Error Sensors (FES). The FES instruments guide the FUSE satellite to enable it to point in precisely the right direction to make its exacting scientific observations; they also aid in the navigation of the satellite. The CSA is also providing two Canadian astronomers to support FUSE operations and science data analysis at the John Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore MD throughout the mission.

The Canadian Project Scientist is Dr. John Hutchings of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA) of the National Research Council in Victoria, BC; the FUSE Principal Investigator is Dr. Warren Moos at the Johns Hopkins University. The JHU developed FUSE for NASA and has the primary responsibility for all aspects of the FUSE project.

The Canadian Space Agency funded and managed the Fine-Error Sensor contract with COM DEV International of Cambridge, Ontario. COM DEV also developed the Instrument Data System, the computer system that controls the FUSE telescope, under a separate contract with the JHU. Due to the CSA's contribution, Canadian astronomers have a guaranteed fraction of FUSE observing time for their research programs.

The FUSE results are being published in the August 10, 2001 issue of the journal Science. Canadians John Hutchings and Don Morton are among the authors of the paper.

The team also plans to use FUSE to look at other quasars to trace the universe's structure.

FUSE is a NASA Origins mission, developed and operated by the Johns Hopkins University in collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (France), the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Colorado, and the University of California. FUSE was launched on June 24, 1999 on a three-year mission to obtain high-resolution spectra in the far ultraviolet wavelength region (905-1185 Angstroms) of faint galactic and extragalactic objects. For further information about FUSE, visit the mission web site at:

Note to the Editors
Information and illustration are available on the Canadian Space Agency Web at:

and via links: and

About the Canadian Space Agency

Established in 1989 with its headquarters situated in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, the Canadian Space Agency coordinates all aspects of the Canadian Space Program. Through its Space Knowledge, Applications and Industry Development business line, the CSA delivers services involving: Earth and the Environment; Space Science; Human Presence in Space; Satellite Communications; Generic Space Technologies; Space Qualification Services and Awareness. The Canadian Space Agency is at the forefront of the development and application of space knowledge for the benefit of Canadians and humanity.


For more information:
Media Relations Office				John Hutchings 
Canadian Space Agency 				National Research Council 
Tel.: (450) 926-4345 or 4370 			Tel.: (250) 363-0018

Cheryl S. Gundy 					Russ Alexander
Space Telescope Science Institute 		FUSE Project Manager
Office of Public Outreach 			Canadian Space Agency
Tel.: (410) 338-4707

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