The cosmic infrared background experiment
The extragalactic background, based on absolute measurements reported by DIRBE and IRTS at 1.2 and 2.2 µm, exceeds the brightness derived from galaxy counts by up to a factor 5. Furthermore, both DIRBE and the IRTS report fluctuations in the near-infrared sky brightness that appear to have an extra-galactic origin, but are larger than expected from local (z = 1–3) galaxies. These observations have led to speculation that a new class of high-mass stars or mini-quasars may dominate primordial star formation at high-redshift (z ~ 10–20), which, in order to explain the excess in the near-infrared background, must be highly luminous but produce a limited amount of metals and X-ray photons. Regardless of the nature of the sources, if a significant component of the near-infrared background comes from first-light galaxies, theoretical models generically predict a prominent near-infrared spectral feature from the redshifted Lyman cutoff, and a distinctive fluctuation power spectrum. We are developing a rocket-borne instrument (the Cosmic Infrared Background ExpeRiment, or CIBER) to search for signatures of primordial galaxy formation in the cosmic near-infrared extra-galactic background. CIBER consists of a wide-field two-color camera, a low-resolution absolute spectrometer, and a high-resolution narrow-band imaging spectrometer. The cameras will search for spatial fluctuations in the background on angular scales from 7" to 2°, where a first-light galaxy signature is expected to peak, over a range of angular scales poorly covered by previous experiments. CIBER will determine if the fluctuations reported by the IRTS arise from first-light galaxies or have a local origin. In a short rocket flight CIBER has sensitivity to probe fluctuations 100x fainter than IRTS/DIRBE, with sufficient resolution to remove local-galaxy correlations. By jointly observing regions of the sky studied by Spitzer and ASTRO-F, CIBER will build a multi-color view of the near-infrared background, accurately assessing the contribution of local (z = 1–3) galaxies to the observed background fluctuations, allowing a deep and comprehensive survey for first-light galaxy background fluctuations. The low-resolution spectrometer will search for a redshifted Lyman cutoff feature between 0.8 and 2.0 µm. The high-resolution spectrometer will trace zodiacal light using the intensity of scattered Fraunhofer lines, providing an independent measurement of the zodiacal emission and a new check of DIRBE zodiacal dust models. The combination will systematically search for the infrared excess background light reported in near-infrared DIRBE/IRTS data, compared with the small excess reported at optical wavelengths.