A detailed view of the Cosmic Microwave Background from WMAP, compared to the original view from the COBE satellite.
Click on image for full size
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
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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
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