Deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, was created during the Big Bang, the explosion that brought the universe into being, according to many. Measuring the amount of deuterium can, researchers believe, help them create models of how the universe began and how it evolved. The findings are being reported in the Sept. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
An accurate measurement could also help determine the amount of dark matter in the universe, as well as the composition of gas clouds, brown dwarfs and other phenomenon floating around out there, MIT said.
Unfortunately, measuring deuterium accurately has been tough with Earth-bound tools.
For one thing, there's not a lot of deuterium. Standard hydrogen outnumbers it 100,000 to one. The optical wavelength of hydrogen and deuterium are also very similar.
Further, power lines, TV signals and radios can also interfere with trying to study the cosmos. Allen Rogers, who headed up the project, had to ask a neighbor of the observatory to switch brands of telephone answering machines to cut down on interference, the university said. Interference caused by one person's stereo system was solved by having a part on the sound card replaced.
The Haystack group used a radio telescope array built at MIT and took measurements for a year.