COSI Blog
22
March
2013

Touch the Big Bang

The Cosmic Microwave Background - as seen by Planck. Credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

So much of modern science, (the search for the Higgs boson, the attempts to make nuclear fusion a reality, and even the latest dinosaur discovery) are too far away, too hot, too cold, too large or too small to get our hands on. But here's some modern science you can actually reach out and touch.

All you need is a television not connected to a cable box or, if you don't have that available, you can just use this web site:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8E-MtJBAZvw

The static on the screen is the same static you'll hear between radio stations. Now reach out and put your hand on the screen.

Around one out of every one hundred of those little bursts impacting your hand is caused by a bit of light left over from the Big Bang, the event that began our universe nearly fourteen billion years ago. When you touch that screen, you are touching the Big Bang itself.

What does this have to do with modern experiments? On March 21, 2013 the Planck telescope released a much better picture of that same light.

Edit note: here's the website for the Planck telescope http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=17 and here's a picture from that site (at right).

In fact, this is the most detailed picture ever taken of the "Cosmic Background Radiation". It reveals the moment when light was first able to move through our universe. Within the tiny squiggles and bumps in this picture, we see nothing less than the origins of ourselves. The fluctuations in this radiation directed the formation of stars and galaxies. Within the images returned by the Planck telescope, we are truly seeing our own beginnings. We are, in a sense, watching the Big Bang unfold before our eyes.

Researchers with the Planck telescope hope to use this image to gain a better understanding of how and why our universe began. The light waves* that formed this image are the same ones making one percent of that static on your screen. So don't tell me there's nothing on television. You can always watch the Big Bang!

*also known as microwaves, a kind of light that our eyes can't see – but that's great for popping corn!

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