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 the international effort to analyze more than 5 PetaBytes of data from the MWA, I'm the software lead for HERA, and I'm the director of the UW Dark Universe Science Center (DUSC).

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 analysis of MWA and PAPER data, and has pushed the frontier of precision data analysis and foreground subtraction. This work includes the development of Fast Holographic Deconvolution, understanding of mode-mixing and the origin of the EoR Window, and developing a direct imaging power spectrum pipeline. 

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