The study, led by RIT scientists, uses data recorded by LORRI on NASA’s New Horizons mission – Zoo House News
Scientists analyzed new measurements showing that light emitted by stars outside our galaxy is two to three times brighter than light from known galaxy populations, challenging assumptions about the number and location of stars in the Universe. The results of the study, led by researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology, were published on ArXiv and accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
The research team analyzed hundreds of background light images taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons mission to calculate the cosmic optical background (COB) – the sum of the light emitted by stars beyond the Milky Way is emitted over the Earth History of the Universe. If the COB brightness doesn’t match the light from galaxies we know, it suggests there may be missing optical light sources in the Universe.
“We see more light than we should, based on the populations of galaxies we know exist and how much light we estimate they should be producing,” said Teresa Symons, 22 Ph.D. (astrophysical sciences and technology), who led the study for her dissertation and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Irvine. “Determining what creates this light could change our fundamental understanding of how the universe formed over time.”
Earlier this year, an independent team of scientists reported that the COB is twice the size originally thought in Astrophysical Journal Letters. These results were no coincidence, as corroborated by a much broader set of LORRI observations in the new study by Symons, RIT Associate Professor Michael Zemcov and researchers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.
While an unobstructed measurement of the COB from Earth is difficult to achieve due to dust between the planets, the New Horizons spacecraft is at the edge of our solar system where this foreground is minimal and offers a much clearer view for this type of study. The scientists hope that future missions and instruments can be developed to study the discrepancy.
“This has gotten to a point where it’s a real mystery that needs solving,” said Zemcov, research professor at RIT’s Center for Detectors and School of Physics and Astronomy. “I hope that some of the experiments we are involved in here at RIT, including CIBER-2 and SPHEREx, can help us resolve the discrepancy.”
Materials provided by the Rochester Institute of Technology. Originally written by Luke Auburn. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.