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 another startling discovery was made quite by
accident. A pair of scientists at Bell Laboratories detected some
annoying background noise using a special low noise antenna. The
strange thing about the noise was that it was coming from every
direction and did not seem to vary in intensity at all. They had
discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation.
This radiation permeates the entire Universe and is no stronger or
weaker in any direction. It has a perfect blackbody spectrum,
meaning it behaves like radiation from an object that absorbs and
emits all radiation that falls upon it. Its temperature is 2.7 degrees
Kelvin (-454.81 degrees Farenheit). It has only minute fluctuations
that were only detectable by the very sensitive space craft the Cosmic
Background Explorer, COBE. This radiation is believed to be the
remanant of the Universe's brilliant beginning, known as the Big Bang.
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.
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