StarDate: May 8, 2009

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From here on the ground, if you look at the universe in most types of energy, all you see is a fog. The air absorbs or scatters these types of energy, so they can't reach the surface.

Even from far above the surface, though, the universe can produce its own "fog" -- a steady background that's tough to see through.

That was the case for an experiment that was designed to look for the glow of the first stars in the universe. Called ARCADE, the experiment was lofted more than 20 miles above the surface by a giant balloon. It launched from a NASA balloon base in Palestine, Texas, in 2006.

ARCADE was looking at the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, which is in the form of radio waves. These waves are hard to see from Earth's surface, but shine through from high altitudes.

The first stars in the universe should have imprinted their own signature in the afterglow. By studying that signature, mission scientists expected to learn more about how and when the first stars were born, and about the earliest structure in the universe.

Instead, they found a bright "fog" of radio waves, like a constant static. The static was so strong that it didn't let them see the subtle signature of the early stars.

The source of that static remains a mystery. It's too strong and too evenly spread out to come from galaxies. It may be revealing something new or unexpected in the very early universe. But so far, it's left astronomers in a fog.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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