The epoch of reionization is a milestone of cosmological structure formation, marking the birth of the first objects massive enough to yield large numbers of ionizing photons. However, the mechanism and timescale of reionization remain largely unknown. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) Doppler effect from ionizing bubbles embedded in large-scale velocity streams-known as the patchy kinetic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (kSZ) effect-can be used to constrain the duration of reionization. When combined with large-scale CMB polarization measurements, the evolution of the ionized fraction, xe, can be inferred. Using new multi-frequency data from the South Pole Telescope (SPT), we show that the ionized fraction evolved relatively rapidly. For our basic foreground model, we find the kSZ power sourced by reionization at ℓ = 3000 to be D3000patchy ≤ 2.1 μK2 at 95% confidence. Using reionization simulations, we translate this to a limit on the duration of reionization of Δz ≡ zxe=0.20 zxe=0.99 ≤ 4.4 (95% confidence). We find that this constraint depends on assumptions about the angular correlation between the thermal SZ power and the cosmic infrared background (CIB). Introducing the degree of correlation as a free parameter, we find that the limit on kSZ power weakens to D3000patchy ≤ 4.9μK2, implying Δz ≤ 7.9 (95% confidence). We combine the SPT constraint on the duration of reionization with the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measurement of the integrated optical depth to probe the cosmic ionization history. We find that reionization ended with 95% confidence at z > 7.2 under the assumption of no tSZ-CIB correlation, and z > 5.8 when correlations are allowed. Improved constraints from the full SPT data set in conjunction with upcoming Herschel and Planck data should detect extended reionization at >95% confidence provided Δz ≥ 2. These CMB observations complement other observational probes of the epoch of reionization such as the redshifted 21 cm line and narrowband surveys for Lyα-emitting galaxies.
- cosmology: theory
- intergalactic medium
- large-scale structure of universe