It is commonly known that the light from stars and other objects viewable in the night sky took a certain length of time to reach the Earth. Astronomers muse that the light from this star or that star must have taken thousands or even millions of years to reach our eyes and that this star or that star could have gone supernova and we wouldn't even know it. Basically, because this is true, it is logical to say that as you look farther away from the Earth - with more and more powerful telescopes - the further back into time you look as well. The further out into space the stars or galaxies, the longer it takes their light to reach us. If you looked out far enough, you might even be able to see the very beginnings of the universe and almost prove the Big Bang Theory. (Almost because it is an event that'd be impossible to observe).

The Large Millimeter Telescope, or LMT, currently being constructed on the top of one of Mexico's highest mountains, hopefully will uncover more secrets about the universe's infancy than any device before it has. With an antenna roughly the size of a big Ferris wheel and a launching pad-like base, it will, if successful, be able to pick up electromagnetic radiation - or millimeter waves - emitted as far back as 13 billion years ago. Astrophysicists claim this is when the stars were first being born.

The Sierra Negra, Mexico's fifth-highest peak (it has a 15,026 summit), is the home of the LMT. Scientists working on the project hope that it will detect clouds of cosmic dust that were emitted from the formation of the first stars some 13.7 billion years ago which is thought to be how old the universe is. They also hope to spot thousands of as-yet undiscovered galaxies. The $100 million telescope is being put together by the United States and Mexico (the University of Massachusetts and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica (INAOE), respectively).

Typical, optical telescopes pick up light, whereas the LMT will pick up radiation at wavelengths of 1 to 3 millimeters, which is shorter than radio waves but longer than visible light, infrared, and gamma rays. The advantage the LMT has over the optical telescopes is that the millimeter waves are not interfered with by space dust and is still quite bright even if very far away. This means it can see further away - and further back into time - with fewer inaccuracies.

An astrophysicist on the team, Itziar Aretxaga, says that if the universe were only one year old, "the period we will look at with the LMT is from January 10 to the year-end."

Plenty of extra oxygen has to be on hand, though, as the air atop the Sierra Negra is very thin. It is problematic because the lack of air can lead to silly errors on the part of the scientists, like writing down that two-plus-two equals five.


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