A Space-based Observational Strategy for Characterizing the First Stars and Galaxies Using the Redshifted 21 cm Global Spectrum

Jack O. Burns, Richard Bradley, Keith Tauscher, Steven Furlanetto, Jordan Mirocha, Raul Monsalve, David Rapetti, William Purcell, David Newell, David Draper, Robert Macdowall, Judd Bowman, Bang Nhan, Edward J. Wollack, Anastasia Fialkov, Dayton Jones, Justin C. Kasper, Abraham Loeb, Abhirup Datta, Jonathan PritchardEric Switzer, Michael Bicay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


The redshifted 21 cm monopole is expected to be a powerful probe of the epoch of the first stars and galaxies (10 < z < 35). The global 21 cm signal is sensitive to the thermal and ionization state of hydrogen gas and thus provides a tracer of sources of energetic photons-primarily hot stars and accreting black holes-which ionize and heat the high redshift intergalactic medium (IGM). This paper presents a strategy for observations of the global spectrum with a realizable instrument placed in a low-altitude lunar orbit, performing night-time 40-120 MHz spectral observations, while on the farside to avoid terrestrial radio frequency interference, ionospheric corruption, and solar radio emissions. The frequency structure, uniformity over large scales, and unpolarized state of the redshifted 21 cm spectrum are distinct from the spectrally featureless, spatially varying, and polarized emission from the bright foregrounds. This allows a clean separation between the primordial signal and foregrounds. For signal extraction, we model the foreground, instrument, and 21 cm spectrum with eigenmodes calculated via Singular Value Decomposition analyses. Using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithm to explore the parameter space defined by the coefficients associated with these modes, we illustrate how the spectrum can be measured and how astrophysical parameters (e.g., IGM properties, first star characteristics) can be constrained in the presence of foregrounds using the Dark Ages Radio Explorer (DARE).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number33
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 20 2017


  • cosmology: observations
  • dark ages, reionization, first stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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