Sydney, Jan 25 (IANS) Despite all the hype over global warming, astronomers say that the universe has actually cooled down just the way the Big Bang theory predicts.
The Big Bang is an explosion of dense matter that, according to current cosmological theories, marked the origin of our universe.
Using the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Australia Telescope Compact Array in New South Wales, a team from Sweden, France, Germany and Australia has measured how warm the Universe was when it was half its current age.
"This is the most precise measurement ever made of how the Universe has cooled down during its 13.77 billion year history," said Robert Braun, chief scientist at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.
Because light takes time to travel, when we look out into space we see the Universe as it was in the past - as it was when light left the galaxies we are looking at.
So to look back half-way into the Universe's history, we need to look half-way across the Universe. How can we measure a temperature at such a great distance?
The astronomers studied gas in an unnamed galaxy 7.2 billion light-years away.
The only thing keeping this gas warm is the cosmic background radiation - the glow left over from the Big Bang. By chance, there is another powerful galaxy, a quasar (called PKS 1830-211), lying behind the unnamed galaxy.
Radio waves from this quasar come through the gas of the foreground galaxy. As they do so, the gas molecules absorb some of the energy of the radio waves. This leaves a distinctive "fingerprint" on the radio waves, according to a CSIRO statement.
From this "fingerprint" the astronomers calculated the gas's temperature. They found it to be 5.08 Kelvin (-267.92 degrees Celsius): extremely cold, but still warmer than today's Universe, which is at 2.73 Kelvin (-270.27 degrees Celsius).
"The universe of a few billion years ago was a few degrees warmer than it is now, exactly as the Big Bang Theory predicts," said Sebastien Muller of Onsala Space Observatory at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, who led the team.