Miguel F. Morales' Research

Photo of Miguel Morales at the Getty art museum

I am an observational cosmologist, and I lead the Radio Cosmology group at the University of Washington. Most of our work focuses on trying to observe the first stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe about 13 billion years ago. We design and build state-of-the-art radio telescopes and develop the precision data analysis techniques and software needed to extract the faint radio emission from the first stars. We are members of both the Murchison Widefield Array located in the Western Australian desert (MWA) and the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) in the Karoo desert of South Africa.

I am currently leading an international effort to analyze more than 9 PetaBytes of data from the MWA, I'm the imaging power spectrum lead for HERA, and I'm the director of the UW Dark Universe Science Center (DUSC). I've also written a seven article series on Quantum Mechanics for arstechnica.com, and an accompanying teaching guide can be found here.

Epoch of Reionization Observations

The history of our Universe is written in hydrogen. After the Big Bang and the making of the elements, the universe was filled with a smooth hydrogen-helium plasma with conditions very similar to the outer parts of the Sun. The universe cooled and the hydrogen suddenly changed from an ionized plasma to a neutral gas—just like when water vapor condenses into a cloud. If you look far enough in any direction (and have the right observational tools) you see a wall of glowing plasma called the cosmic microwave background (CMB) that is a result of this phase transition in hydrogen. 

Then gravity starts pulling the neutral hydrogen together, creating the first stars and galaxies a little less than a billion years after the Big Bang. These primordial stars and galaxies emit ultraviolet light that reionizes the hydrogen. This burning off of the neutral hydrogen fog by the first stars and galaxies is called the Epoch of Reionization (EoR). Marcelo Alvarez has one of my favorite movies of the reionization process.

Observing the formation of the first stars and galaxies is scientifically compelling, but also very difficult. My colleagues and I build and use special purpose radio telescopes such as the MWA and HERA that are tuned to detect the faint 21 cm radio line emitted by neutral hydrogen. Observing the 21 cm EoR signal was rated the top priority in radio astronomy by the Astro2010 decadal survey.

The UW RadCos group plays a leading role in the US Power Spectrum Analysis team, the most successful of the international 21 cm Cosmology teams. Recent work include some of the deepest limits to date Barry et al. 2019 & Li et al. 2019; advances in calibration Byrne et al. 2020 & 2019; mitigation of ultra-faint RFI Wilensky et al. 2020 & 2019; and understanding the diversity of 21 cm cosmology analyses Morales et al. 2019.

If you would like more information about our work, an invited review article on 21 cm Epoch of Reionization and dark energy observations can be found here, and an automated listing of our recent papers here. Please feel free to contact me about my research and opportunities in cosmology at the University of Washington.

-Miguel F. Morales