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The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
A detailed view of the Cosmic Microwave Background from WMAP, compared to the original view from the COBE satellite.
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NASA/WMAP Science Team

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

In the 1960's, a pair of scientists noticed some annoying static (like you hear on the radio) when trying to use a special radio antenna. The strange thing about the noise was that it was coming from every direction and never got stronger or weaker. If the static were from something on our world, like radio transmissions from a nearby airport control tower, it would only come from one direction, not everywhere. The scientists soon realized they had discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation.

This radiation is a form of energy, like the microwaves which microwave ovens produce to cook food. It fills the entire Universe, and is believed to be a clue to the Universe's brilliant beginning, known as the Big Bang. Astronomers believe that this energy, which was trapped by electrons in the early, hot universe, escaped when the universe cooled enough for hydrogen atoms to form.

More recently, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team has made a more detailed full-sky map of this oldest light in the universe. The WMAP image brings the COBE picture into sharp focus, and provides firm answers to age-old questions. WMAP resolves slight temperature fluctuations, which vary by only a few millionths of a degree. These new data support and strengthen the Big Bang and Inflation Theories.

Last modified April 29, 2005 by Travis Metcalfe.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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