Can we see the Big Bang?

Are we able to observe the birth of the universe?


This image shows nine years of data for CMB radiation in the universe.

Current telescope technology allows us to ‘see’ the Big Bang, in a way. The most famous of these telescopes, COBE, was launched in 1989. This telescope studied something called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. This background radiation is the afterglow of the Big Bang. This signature was left as the initial energy released from the Big Bang spreads out across the universe.

Since COBE more missions have studied the CMB in more detail giving us a deeper understanding of our universe. So far the data collected from this background radiation have supported the theories for an expanding universe. One curiosity that is thrown up by studies of the CMB is that the universe is not even. In the background there are subtle variations of energy and these fluctuations don’t appear to be balanced.

This is something that has baffled scientists. It is expected that with no other influences as the universe expanded it would be roughly similar in all directions. Study of the CMB has shown that this isn’t the case, evidence of some large scale structure has been found. This structure helped develop the idea of exotic dark matter and currently remains one of science’s greatest mysteries.

Image courtesy of NASA/WMAP Science Team

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