NASA probe to hunt for cosmic 'fossils'
June 9, 1999
(CNN) -- NASA will soon begin an archaeology mission in space, searching for relics of the Big Bang that scientists believe created the universe some 12 billion years ago.
Orbiting 480 miles (768 km) above Earth, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) will study the ultraviolet bands of light, collecting information that's impossible to detect with any current telescope.
"The purpose of the FUSE mission is to understand better how galaxies evolve and how the gas within galaxies changes with time," says Kenneth Sembach of Johns Hopkins University, chief science program coordinator.
The light analysis can also uncover details about the molecules that make up galaxies.
"Each type of molecule has a unique signature," Sembach explains. "You can think of these signature as a sort of cosmic bar code."
Astronomers will be looking for one particular clue -- deuterium, a form of hydrogen scientists believe was created in enormous quantities during the Big Bang.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins describe deuterium as a sort of "cosmic fossil."
Among the other cosmic questions FUSE will tackle on its three-year mission:
FUSE is scheduled to begin its search for those answers on June 23, when it launches from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II rocket.
FUSE was developed by Johns Hopkins, which has primary responsibility for all aspects of the project, while NASA is responsible for the launch.
The $204 million project marks the first NASA mission of this scope that has been developed and operated entirely by a university.
Correspondent Marsha Walton contributed to this report.
Astronomers calculate age of the universe
FUSE: Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer Home Page
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