Anisotropy of the Cosmic Blackbody Radiation

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  20 Jun 1986:
Vol. 232, Issue 4757, pp. 1517-1522
DOI: 10.1126/science.232.4757.1517


The universe is filled with thermal radiation having a current temperature of 2.75 K. Originating in the very early universe, this radiation furnishes strong evidence that the Big Bang cosmology best describes our expanding universe from an incredibly hot, compacted early stage until now. The model can be used to extrapolate our physics backward in time to predict events whose effects might be observable in the 2.75 K radiation today. The spectrum and isotropy are being studied with sophisticated microwave radiometers on the ground, in balloons, and in satellites. The results are as predicted by the simple theory: the spectrum is that of a blackbody (to a few percent) and the radiation is isotropic (to 0.01 percent) except for a local effect due to our motion through the radiation. However, a problem is emerging. Primordial fluctuations in the mass density, which later became the great clusters of galaxies that we see today, should have left an imprint on the 2.75 K radiation—bumpiness on the sky at angular scales of about 10 arc minutes. They have not yet been seen.