cosmic microwave background

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pages: 420 words: 119,928

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth's Past) by Cixin Liu


back-to-the-land, cosmic microwave background, Deng Xiaoping, game design, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Norbert Wiener, Panamax, RAND corporation, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Von Neumann architecture

Do you know if there are any facilities in China that are observing the cosmic microwave background?” Wang had the urge to talk to someone about what was going on, but he thought it best to not let too many people know about the countdown that only he could see. “The cosmic microwave background? What made you interested in that? I guess you really have run into some problems.… Have you been to see Yang Dong’s mother yet?” “Ah—I’m sorry. I forgot.” “No worries. Right now, many scientists have … seen something, like you. Everyone’s distracted. But I think it’s still best if you go visit her. She’s getting on in years, and she won’t hire a caretaker. If there’s some task around the home that she needs help with, please help her.… Oh, right, the cosmic microwave background. You can ask Yang’s mother. Before she retired, she was an astrophysicist.

Sha’s lab was mainly responsible for receiving the data transmitted from three satellites: the Cosmic Background Explorer, COBE, launched in November of 1989 and about to be retired; the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, WMAP, launched in 2003; and Planck, the space observatory launched by the European Space Agency in 2009. Cosmic microwave background radiation very precisely matched the thermal black body spectrum at a temperature of 2.7255 K and was highly isotropic—meaning nearly uniform in every direction—with only tiny temperature fluctuations at the parts per million range. Sha Ruishan’s job was to create a more detailed map of the cosmic microwave background using observational data. The lab wasn’t very big. Equipment for receiving satellite data was squeezed into the main computer room, and three terminals displayed the information sent by the three satellites. Sha was excited to see Wang. Clearly bored with his long isolation and happy to have a visitor, he asked Wang what kind of data he wanted to see. “I want to see the overall fluctuation in the cosmic microwave background.” “Can you … be more specific?”

“What I mean is … I want to see the isotropic fluctuation in the overall cosmic microwave background, between one and five percent,” he said, quoting from Shen’s email. Sha grinned. Starting at the turn of the century, the Miyun Radio Astronomy Observatory had opened itself to visitors. In order to earn some extra income, Sha often played the role of tour guide or gave lectures. This was the grin he reserved for tourists, as he had grown used to their astounding scientific illiteracy. “Mr. Wang, I take it you’re not a specialist in the field?” “I work in nanotech.” “Ah, makes sense. But you must have some basic understanding of the cosmic microwave background?” “I don’t know much. I know that as the universe cooled after the big bang, the leftover ‘embers’ became the cosmic microwave background. The radiation fills the entire universe and can be observed in the centimeter wavelength range.


pages: 634 words: 185,116

From eternity to here: the quest for the ultimate theory of time by Sean M. Carroll


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Columbine, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix,, gravity well, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Lao Tzu, lone genius, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener,, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Schrödinger's Cat, Slavoj Žižek, Stephen Hawking, stochastic process, the scientific method, wikimedia commons

True, it contains complicated things like galaxies and sea otters and federal governments, but if we average out the local idiosyncrasies, on very large scales the universe looks pretty much the same everywhere. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cosmic microwave background. Every direction we look in the sky, we see microwave background radiation that looks exactly like that from an object glowing serenely at some fixed temperature—what physicists call “blackbody” radiation. However, the temperature is ever so slightly different from point to point on the sky; typically, the temperature in one direction differs from that in some other direction by about 1 part in 100,000. These fluctuations are called anisotropies—tiny departures from the otherwise perfectly smooth temperature of the background radiation in every direction. Figure 8: Temperature anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background, as measured by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. Dark regions are slightly colder than average, light regions are slightly hotter than average.

Although it seems like a fairly innocent assumption, we have an intuitive feeling that we don’t know something only about the present; we know something about the past, because we see it, in a way that we don’t see the future. Cosmology is a good example, just because the speed of light plays an important role, and we have a palpable sense of “looking at an event in the past.” When we try to reconstruct the history of the universe, it’s tempting to look at (for example) the cosmic microwave background and say, “I can see what the universe was like almost 14 billion years ago; I don’t have to appeal to any fancy Past Hypothesis to reason my way into drawing any conclusions.” That’s not right. When we look at the cosmic microwave background (or light from any other distant source, or a photograph of any purported past event), we’re not looking at the past. We’re observing what certain photons are doing right here and now. When we scan our radio telescope across the sky and observe a bath of radiation at about 2.7 Kelvin that is very close to uniform in every direction, we’ve learned something about the radiation passing through our present location, which we then need to extrapolate backward to infer something about the past.

Our picture of the early universe is not based simply on theoretical extrapolation; we can use our theories to make testable predictions. For example, when the universe was about 1 minute old, it was a nuclear reactor, fusing protons and neutrons into helium and other light elements in a process known as “primordial nucleosynthesis.” We can observe the abundance of such elements today and obtain spectacular agreement with the predictions of the Big Bang model. We also observe cosmic microwave background radiation. The early universe was hot as well as dense, and hot things give off radiation. The theory behind night-vision goggles is that human beings (or other warm things) give off infrared radiation that can be detected by an appropriate sensor. The hotter something is, the more energetic (short wavelength, high frequency) is the radiation it emits. The early universe was extremely hot and gave off a lot of energetic radiation.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

By comparing the star’s luminosity to the apparent brightness as seen from the Earth, its distance can be accurately determined. These stars therefore play an important role in determining the cosmic distance scale. CMB radiation See cosmic microwave background radiation. COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) A satellite launched in 1989 to make accurate measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. Its DMR detector provided the first evidence for variations in the CMB radiation, indicative of regions in the early universe that led to galaxy formation. Copernican model The Sun-centred model of the universe, proposed by Nicholas Copernicus in the sixteenth century. cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation A pervasive ‘sea’ of microwave radiation emanating almost uniformly from every direction in the universe, which dates back to the moment of recombination.

This wavelength is invisible to the human eye, and is located in the so-called microwave region of the spectrum. Alpher and Herman were making a specific prediction. The universe should be full of a feeble microwave light with a wavelength of one millimetre, and it should be coming from all directions because it had existed everywhere in the universe at the moment of recombination. Anybody who could detect this so-called cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB radiation) would prove that the Big Bang really happened. Immortality was waiting for whoever could make the measurement. Unfortunately, Alpher and Herman were completely ignored. Nobody made any serious effort to search for their proposed CMB radiation. There were various reasons why the academic community shunned the prediction of CMB radiation, but first and foremost was the interdisciplinary nature of the research.

First, based on the redshifts of the galaxies, the age of the Big Bang universe was less than the age of the stars it contained, which was clearly nonsensical. Second, attempts to build atoms out of the Big Bang had hiccupped at helium, which was embarrassing because this implied that the universe should not contain any oxygen, carbon, nitrogen or any other heavy elements. But although the outlook was grim, the Big Bang was not yet a lost cause. The model could be salvaged and its credibility boosted if somebody could detect the cosmic microwave background radiation predicted by Alpher and Herman. Unfortunately, nobody could be bothered to look for it. Meanwhile, the situation for those who supported the idea of an eternal universe was looking more positive. They were about to fight back with their own revamped model. A team of cosmologists based in Britain were developing a theory that not only gave rise to an eternal universe, but was also capable of explaining Hubble’s observations of redshifts.


pages: 279 words: 75,527

Collider by Paul Halpern


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, gravity well, horn antenna, index card, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Solar eclipse in 1919, statistical model, Stephen Hawking

“Things are out of whack,” he said. “Condensed-matter physics is at the heart of modern technology, of computer chips, of all the electronic gadgets behind the new industrial order. Yet relative to the big projects, it’s neglected.”15 Another leading critic of “big science,” who was skeptical about channeling so much funding into the Super Collider, was Arno Penzias, codiscoverer of the cosmic microwave background. Penzias said, “One of the big arguments for the S.S.C. is that it will inspire public interest in science and attract young people to the field. But if we can’t educate them properly because we’ve spent our money on big machines instead of universities, where’s the point? As a nation we must take a new look at our scientific priorities and ask ourselves what we really want.”16 On the other hand, who could anticipate what would have been the long-term spin-offs of the SSC?

You would thereby be able to use its relative brightness to estimate its distance. Similarly, astronomers rely on standard candles such as Supernova Ia to gauge distances for which there would be no other measure. The team led by Perlmutter, called the Supernova Cosmology Project (SCP), has deep connections with the world of particle physics. First of all, along with George Smoot’s Nobel Prize- winning exploration of the cosmic microwave background using the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite, it represents an expansion of the mission of Lawrence’s lab. Given that Lawrence was always looking for connections and applications, such a broad perspective perfectly suits the former Rad Lab. Also, one of the SCP’s founding members is Gerson Goldhaber, who won acclaim for his role in the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center- led group that jointly discovered the J/psi particle.

Quintessence is a hypothetical material with negative pressure that pushes things apart (like an elemental Samson on the Philistines’ columns) rather than pulling them together (like ordinary, gravitating matter). Its name harks back to the four classical elements of Empedocles—with quintessence representing the fifth. The distinction between a cosmological constant and quintessence is that while the former would be as stable as granite, the latter could vary from place to place and time to time like moldable putty. Findings of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe of the cosmic microwave background support the idea that the cosmos is a mixture of dark energy, dark matter, and visible matter—in that order. The satellite picture has not been able to tell us, however, what specific ingredients constitute the duet of dark substances. Physicists hope that further clues as to the nature of dark energy, as well as dark matter, will turn up at the LHC. The discovery of quintessence at the LHC, for example, would revolutionize the field of cosmology and transform our understanding of matter, energy, and the universe.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Time: 1988 Noteworthy Events: Quasars are detected near the outposts of the observable universe; their redshifts indicate that their light has been traveling through space for some seventeen billion years. Time: 1990 Noteworthy Events: COBE satellite measures cosmic microwave background radiation; confirms that it displays a black-body spectrum as predicted by the hot big-bang model. Time: 1992 Noteworthy Events: COBE satellite data show anisotropies—lumps—in the cosmic microwave background, supporting big-bang prediction that such lumps were the seeds of galaxies and other large-scale cosmic structures. Time: 1998 Noteworthy Events: Astronomers studying Supernovae find evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, rather than slowing down as had been presumed. Time: 2000 Noteworthy Events: Measurements of cosmic microwave background anisotropies indicate that cosmic spacetime is flat or nearly so, as predicted by inflationary versions of big-bang theory.

The ubiquitous cosmic gas has recently thinned sufficiently to permit light particles—photons—to travel for significant distances without colliding with particles of matter and being reabsorbed. (There are plenty of photons on hand, because the universe is rich in electrically charged particles, which generate electromagnetic energy, the quantum of which is the photon.) It is this great gush of light, much redshifted and thinned out by the subsequent expansion of the universe, that human beings billions of years hence will detect with radiotelescopes and will call the cosmic microwave background radiation. This, the epoch of “let there be light,” has a significant effect on the structure of matter. Electrons, relieved from constant harassment by the photons, are now free to settle into orbit around nuclei, forming hydrogen and helium atoms. With atoms on hand, chemistry can proceed, to lead, eons hence, to the formation of alcohol and formaldehyde in interstellar clouds and the building of biotic molecules in the oceans of the early earth.

Galaxies imaged by Hubble at vast distances showed evidence of cosmic evolution, with spirals evidently having once been more commonplace and many of them subsequently being stripped of interstellar gas by collisions with one another to turn them into bald-looking elliptical galaxies. The Hubble Deep Field, a patch of sky imaged in a very long exposure over ten full days of telescope time, revealed galaxies more than halfway across the observable universe and became a kind of scientific watering hole to which many other observers repaired to make comparison observations of their own. Studies of the cosmic background radiation—now more often called the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, to distinguish it from primordial neutrinos, gravity waves, or other sorts of useful big-bang relics that may soon be detected—reaped major insights for cosmologists. The COBE (for Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite, launched on November 18, 1989, mapped the CMB and confirmed two important predictions of the big-bang theory. First, the background radiation does indeed exhibit a black-body spectrum, as theorists had predicted.


pages: 476 words: 118,381

Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Avis Lang


Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, asset allocation, Berlin Wall, carbon-based life, centralized clearinghouse, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, Gordon Gekko, informal economy, invention of movable type, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Karl Jansky, Kuiper Belt, Louis Blériot, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Pluto: dwarf planet, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, space pen, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, trade route, V2 rocket

Without a doubt, the most important single discovery in astrophysics was made with a microwave telescope: the heat left over from the origin of the universe. In 1964 this remnant heat was measured in a Nobel Prize–winning observation conducted at Bell Telephone Laboratories by the physicists Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. The signal from this heat is an omnipresent, omnidirectional ocean of light—often called the cosmic microwave background—that today registers about 2.7 degrees on the “absolute” temperature scale and is dominated by microwaves (though it radiates at all wavelengths). This discovery was serendipity at its finest. Penzias and Wilson had humbly set out to find terrestrial sources of interference with microwave communications; what they found was compelling evidence for the Big Bang theory. It’s a little like fishing for a minnow and catching a blue whale.

Black holes are voracious maws that emit no light—their gravity is too strong for even light to escape—but their existence can be tracked by the energy emitted from heated, swirling gas nearby. Ultraviolet and X-rays are the predominant form of energy released by material just before it descends into the black hole. It’s worth remembering that the act of discovery does not require that you understand, either in advance or after the fact, what you’ve discovered. That’s what happened with the cosmic microwave background. It also happened with gamma-ray bursts. Mysterious, seemingly random explosions of high-energy gamma rays scattered across the sky were first detected in the 1960s by satellites searching out radiation from clandestine Soviet nuclear-weapons tests. Only decades later did spaceborne telescopes, in concert with ground-based follow-up observations, show them to be the signature of distant stellar catastrophes.

But as of this writing, these waves, predicted in Einstein’s 1916 theory of general relativity as “ripples” in space and time, have not yet been directly detected from any source. A good gravitational-wave telescope would be able to detect black holes orbiting one another, and distant galaxies merging. One can even imagine a time in the future when gravitational events in the universe—collisions, explosions, collapsed stars—are routinely observed. In principle, we might one day see beyond the opaque wall of cosmic microwave background radiation to the Big Bang itself. Like Magellan’s crew, who first circumnavigated Earth and saw the limits of the globe, we would then have reached and discovered the limits of the known universe. Discovery and Society As a surfboard rides a wave, the Industrial Revolution rode the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on the crest of decade-by-decade advances in people’s understanding of energy as a physical concept and a transmutable entity.


pages: 695 words: 219,110

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene


airport security, Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, clockwork universe, conceptual framework, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, dematerialisation, Hans Lippershey, Henri Poincaré, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, urban renewal

If your eyes could see light whose wavelength is much longer than that of orange or red, you would not only be able to see the interior of your microwave oven burst into activity when you push the start button, but you would also see a faint and nearly uniform glow spread throughout what the rest of us perceive as a dark night sky. More than four decades ago, scientists discovered that the universe is suffused with microwave radiation—long-wavelength light—that is a cool relic of the sweltering conditions just after the big bang.4 This cosmic microwave background radiation is perfectly harmless. Early on, it was stupendously hot, but as the universe evolved and expanded, the radiation steadily diluted and cooled. Today it is just about 2.7 degrees above absolute zero, and its greatest claim to mischief is its contribution of a small fraction of the snow you see on your television set when you disconnect the cable and turn to a station that isn’t broadcasting.

The properties of these particles and the relationships between them would show unmistakably that they’re all part of the same cosmic score, that they’re all different but related notes, that they’re all distinct vibrational patterns of a single kind of object—a string. For the foreseeable future, this is the most likely scenario for a direct confirmation of string theory. Cosmic Origins As we saw in earlier chapters, the cosmic microwave background radiation has played a dominant role in cosmological research since its discovery in the mid-1960s. The reason is clear: in the early stages of the universe, space was filled with a bath of electrically charged particles—electrons and protons—which, through the electromagnetic force, incessantly buffeted photons this way and that. But by a mere 300,000 years after the bang (ATB), the universe cooled off just enough for electrons and protons to combine into electrically neutral atoms—and from this moment onward, the radiation has traveled throughout space, mostly undisturbed, providing a sharp snapshot of the early universe.

By comparing WMAP’s initial results, Figure 14.4b, with COBE’s, Figure 14.4a, you can immediately see how much finer and more detailed a picture WMAP is able to provide. Another satellite, Planck, which is being developed by the European Space Agency, is scheduled for launch in 2007, and if all goes according to plan, will better WMAP’s resolution by a factor of ten. Figure 14.4 (a) Cosmic microwave background radiation data gathered by the COBE satellite. The radiation has been traveling through space unimpeded since about 300,000 years after the big bang, so this picture renders the tiny temperature variations present in the universe nearly 14 billion years ago. (b) Improved data collected by the WMAP satellite. The influx of precision data has winnowed the field of cosmological proposals, with the inflationary model being, far and away, the leading contender.


pages: 298 words: 81,200

Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson


Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, cleantech, complexity theory, conceptual framework, cosmic microwave background, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, digital Maoism, discovery of DNA, Dmitri Mendeleev, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Ernest Rutherford, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, greed is good, Hans Lippershey, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, invention of air conditioning, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Snow's cholera map, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, Mason jar, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, online collectivism, packet switching, PageRank, patent troll, pattern recognition, price mechanism, profit motive, Ray Oldenburg, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, side project, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, six sigma, Solar eclipse in 1919, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Great Good Place, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, urban planning

GPS (1958) GPS, or Global Positioning System, a navigational system that uses satellites as reference points to calculate geographical positions, was developed by the American engineer Ivan Getting and his team at the Raytheon Corporation, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Defense, after the initial foundational work of Guier and Weiffenbach tracking the orbit of Sputnik in 1957. COSMIC MICROWAVE BACKGROUND RADIATION (1965) While working with receiver systems at Bell Labs, American astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson were confounded with a sound they could not identify, which they ultimately realized was cosmic microwave background radiation, a remaining radio trace of the Big Bang. PULSARS (1967) Pulsars—pulsating neutron stars that appear to blinking—were observed and discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a graduate student working under the British astronomer Antony Hewish, who would later receive a Nobel.


pages: 360 words: 101,636

Engineering Infinity by Jonathan Strahan


augmented reality, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, gravity well, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, post scarcity, Schrödinger's Cat, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski

The galaxy was alive with the Network, with the blinding Hawking incandescence of holeships, thundering along their cycles; the soft infrared glow of fully grown servers, barely spilling a drop of the heat of their stars; the faint gravity ripples of the darkships' passage in the void. But the galaxy was half a million light years away. And the only thing the server could hear was the soft black whisper of the cosmic microwave background, the lonely echo of another birth. It did not take the server long to understand. The galaxy was an N-body chaos of a hundred billion stars, not a clockwork but a beehive. And among the many calm slow orbits of Einstein and Newton, there were singular ones, like the one of the star that the server had been planted on: shooting out of the galaxy at a considerable fraction of lightspeed.

But he was not a Surface Tactical anymore and there was no surface here, no city with its weak gravity and strong spin to complicate the equations, only speed and darkness and somewhere in the darkness the target. There was no knowing what instruments the nomads had but Ish hoped to evade all of them. The platform's outer shell was black in short wavelengths and would scatter or let pass long ones; the cold face it turned toward the nomad weapon was chilled to within a degree of the cosmic microwave background, and its drives were photonic, the exhaust a laser-tight collimated beam. Eventually some platform would occlude a star or its drive beam would touch some bit of ice or cross some nomad sensor's mirror and they would be discovered, but not quickly and not all at once. They would be on the nomads long before that. - Third company, Ninurta said. - Fire on the ring. Flush them out.


pages: 186 words: 64,267

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, bet made by Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne, Brownian motion, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking

It might be like our being unable to represent the surface of the earth on a single map and having to use different maps in different regions. This would be a revolution in our view of the unification of the laws of science but it would not change the most important point: that the universe is governed by a set of rational laws that we can discover and understand. On the observational side, by far the most important development has been the measurement of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background radiation by COBE (the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite) and other collaborations. These fluctuations are the fingerprints of creation, tiny initial irregularities in the otherwise smooth and uniform early universe that later grew into galaxies, stars, and all the structures we see around us. Their form agrees with the predictions of the proposal that the universe has no boundaries or edges in the imaginary time direction; but further observations will be necessary to distinguish this proposal from other possible explanations for the fluctuations in the background.


pages: 337 words: 93,245

Diaspora by Greg Egan


conceptual framework, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, Fermat's Last Theorem, gravity well, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, stem cell, telepresence, telepresence robot, Turing machine

From the motion of the stars, the time between each frame was determined to he about 200 years; the software displayed 50 frames, 10,000 years, per tau. The whole view was heavily stylized, and the image was binary: not even a gray scale, just black and white. But the software had concluded that the vertical lines attached to each star were a kind of luminosity scale, giving the distance at which the energy density of the star's radiation fell to 61 femtojoules per cubic meter coincidentally or not, the same as the cosmic microwave background. For Voltaire, this distance was about one eighteenth of a light year; for the sun, about one seventh. The orthogonal projection enabled the "luminosity lines" for a few hundred stars to be visible simultaneously, all at the same scale; a realistic perspective from anywhere in the galaxy would have shown all but a few diminished by distance to the point of invisibility, making the intended meaning much more obscure.


pages: 412 words: 122,952

Day We Found the Universe by Marcia Bartusiak


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, Copley Medal, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, horn antenna, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Occam's razor, Pluto: dwarf planet, Solar eclipse in 1919, William of Occam

They had friendly arguments about this issue whenever they met, which led to the joke that “everywhere the two men went, the lambda was sure to go.” Lemaître went on to do important work in celestial mechanics and pioneered the use of electronic computers for numerical calculations. He always hoped the explosive origin of the universe would be validated by astronomical observations and at last received news of the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, the remnant echo of the Big Bang, shortly before he died in 1966. His successor at Louvain, Odon Godart, brought the July 1, 1965, issue of the Astrophysical Journal that contained the Nobel Prize-winning report to Lemaître's hospital bed. After his great surge of creativity between 1905 and 1917—the period when he generated both special and general relativity, introduced us to the particle of light called a photon, and fashioned the first relativistic model of the universe—Albert Einstein stepped away from further major developments in either quantum or cosmological theory and primarily tried, unsuccessfully, linking the forces of nature in one grand unified theory.


Wireless by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, back-to-the-land, Benoit Mandelbrot, Buckminster Fuller, Cepheid variable, cognitive dissonance, colonial exploitation, cosmic microwave background, epigenetics, finite state, Georg Cantor, gravity well, hive mind, jitney, Khyber Pass, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, peak oil, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, security theater, sensible shoes, Turing machine

A soletta now orbits between Earth and the necrosun, filtering out the short-wavelength radiation, and when they periodically remelt the planet to churn the magma, they are at pains to season their new-made hell with a thousand cometary hydrogen carriers. But eventually more extreme measures will be necessary.) The sky is quiet and deathly cold. The universe is expanding, and the wavelength of the cosmic microwave background radiation has stretched. The temperature of space itself is now only thousandths of a degree above absolute zero. The ripples in the background are no longer detectable, and the distant quasars have reddened into invisibility. Galactic clusters that were once at the far edge of detection are now beyond the cosmic event horizon, and though Earth has only traveled two hundred million light-years from the Local Group, the gulf behind it is nearly a billion light-years wide.


Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton


anti-communist, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, centre right, colonial rule, Colonization of Mars, cosmic microwave background, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, double helix, East Village, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Frank Gehry, germ theory of disease, Golden Gate Park, Google Earth, Haight Ashbury, horn antenna, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index card, Jacques de Vaucanson, Kowloon Walled City, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mutually assured destruction, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transcontinental railway, Tunguska event, urban sprawl, Vesna Vulović, wikimedia commons, working poor

To Penzias’s and Wilson’s annoyance, an ever-present low hum interfered with their data collection. They checked their equipment, shooed away some pigeons that had been nesting in the antenna, and listened again. Still the hum persisted. The noise was not coming from the antenna, or anywhere in New Jersey, or anywhere on earth. It came from the universe itself. Penzias and Wilson had just stumbled upon cosmic microwave background. Penzias’s and Wilson’s discovery provided the first observational evidence that the universe began with a Big Bang. The discovery earned them a Nobel Prize in Physics. The decommissioned horn antenna they used for their explosive discovery is now a National Historic Landmark. Holmdel Road and Longview Drive, Holmdel. 40.390760 74.184652 Once the pigeons were shooed away, scientists were able to detect the faint echoes of the Big Bang.