Penn Joins in $40 Million Grant to Establish Simons Observatory

The Simons Foundation has awarded a $38.4 million grant to establish the Simons Observatory, a new astronomy facility in Chile’s Atacama Desert that will merge and expand existing efforts to explore the evolution of the universe from its earliest moments to today. An additional $1.7 million of support is being provided by the Heising-Simons Foundation. The project is a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania; Princeton University; the University of California, San Diego; the University of California, Berkeley; and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, all of which are also providing financial support.

The project will investigate cosmic microwave background radiation to better understand the physics of the big bang, the nature of dark energy and dark matter, the properties of neutrinos, and the formation of structure in the universe.

“A key target of this observatory is the earliest moments in the history of the universe,” said Mark Devlin, Reese W. Flower Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and current project spokesperson. “While patterns that we see in the microwave sky are a picture of the structure of the universe 380,000 years after the Big Bang, we believe that some of these structures were generated much earlier, by gravitational waves produced in the first moments of the universe’s expansion. By measuring how the gravitational waves affect electrons and matter 380,000 years after the big bang we are observing fossils from the very, very early universe.”

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