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Studying the Big Bang's Echo

Mirror mechanism of COBE spacecraft’s FIRAS instrument (engineering prototype), 1980s


Big Bang theory is scientists’ favoured explanation for how the universe developed. It states that space expanded from an initial very hot and dense state. Predicted remnant radiation from the early universe, the Cosmic Microwave Background, was detected in 1964.


In 1990 the FIRAS instrument on board NASA’s COBE spacecraft measured the spectrum of this radiation. Its moving mirrors created interference patterns in a radiation beam, enabling the precise spectrum to be reconstructed.



On loan from the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC


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Taken on July 5, 2010