In my last post I introduced something known as the integrated Sachs-Wolfe (ISW) effect. You'll probably get more out of today's post if you've read that one. However, I've tried to make today's post as self-contained as possible, so don't fret if you're new to the blog or have forgotten things over the last six weeks.
Put most simply, the ISW effect is the very subtle heating and cooling of light as it travels through structures in the universe. In the standard model for the universe's history this ISW effect grows with time and is most significant when dark energy starts to dominate the universe late in its history. The effect occurs because the energy gained or lost by light as it climbs into or falls out of structures becomes smaller with time. Therefore light receives an overall change in energy when it travels through these structures.
Unfortunately, the ISW effect is tiny. It will happen to any light travelling anywhere through the universe, but it is really, really tiny. This means that, for almost every light source in the universe (galaxies, stars, supernovae, etc), we just don't know the initial light source well enough to be able to tell if it has changed by the tiny amount we expect from the ISW effect. But, there is one source for which we have a very clear, very precise prediction. This is the cosmic microwave background, or CMB (note: I introduced the CMB in this post). As regular readers of the blog might be starting to appreciate, the CMB is more or less every cosmologist's favourite data source.
Unfortunately even the CMB has tiny fluctuations in it. These arise because the source of the CMB, a plasma of hydrogen that once permeated the entire universe, was not uniform (I explained the shape of the fluctuations in the CMB in an earlier post). And, most unfortunately, even these tiny fluctuations, fluctuations so small that Nobel prizes were awarded for their detection, are
Alas! So it seems that we can't even see the ISW effect in the CMB?