The cosmic microwave background: part I

Very clear, plain language explanation easy to understand for the layperson.

The Science Geek

In 1964 two young American radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, made an accidental finding which would win them both the Nobel prize and turned out to be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

The story started when Penzias and Wilson were given observing time on a large radio telescope at Bell Labs in New Jersey. The telescope had originally been designed for satellite communications, but with the advances in satellites in the 1960s it had become surplus to requirements.


Penzias and Wilson at the telescope where they made their discovery (image from NASA)

They had been intending only to map radio signals from objects in our Milky Way galaxy, but their telescope was sensitive enough to pick up a faint background signal. This signal was unusual in that it had the same strength in all directions and at all times of day. Initially they thought that it was a man made signal but…

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