Probing the reionization history of the universe using the cosmic microwave background polarization

Manoj Kaplinghat, Mike Chu, Zoltán Haiman, Gilbert P. Holder, Lloyd Knox, Constantinos Skordis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The recent discovery of a Gunn-Peterson (GP) trough in the spectrum of the redshift 6.28 SDSS quasar has raised the tantalizing possibility that we have detected the reionization of the universe. However, a neutral fraction (of hydrogen) as small as 0.1% is sufficient to cause the GP trough; hence, its detection alone cannot rule out reionization at a much earlier epoch. The cosmic microwave background (CMB) polarization anisotropy offers an alternative way to explore the dark age of the universe. We show that for most models constrained by the current CMB data and by the discovery of a GP trough (showing that reionization occurred at z > 6.3), Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) can detect the reionization signature in the polarization power spectrum. The expected 1 σ error on the measurement of the electron optical depth is around 0.03 with a weak dependence on the value of that optical depth. Such a constraint on the optical depth will allow MAP to achieve a 1 σ error on the amplitude of the primordial power spectrum of 6%. MAP with 2 yr (Planck with 1 yr) of observation can distinguish a model with 50% (6%) partial ionization between redshifts of 6.3 and 20 from a model in which hydrogen was completely neutral at redshifts greater than 6.3. Planck will be able to distinguish between different reionization histories even when they imply the same optical depth to electron scattering for the CMB photons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Jan 20 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmic microwave background
  • Cosmological parameters
  • Cosmology: theory
  • Early universe
  • Galaxies: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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