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A new NASA spacecraft will investigate the cosmic background radiation

The MAP spacecraft will investigate the signature of the cosmic background radiation in the micro field


By: Avi Blizovsky

A satellite launched last Saturday made a journey back in time to examine the earliest light in the universe. This is in order to explain the history and fate of the universe. The satellite, which costs 145 million dollars, will map the echoes of the big bang in great detail, from a unique point of view - 4 times the distance of the moon's orbit.
The spacecraft - MAP stands for Microwave Anisotropy Probe - will perform a montage all over the sky of radiation from the edges of the physical universe, radiation that is supposed to be a remnant of the Big Bang.
"The cosmic picture will be the ultimate baby picture," said NASA scientist Alan Bunner. Astronomers have come a long way in recent decades. In the sixties they accidentally discovered the uniform, pale background radiation.
Since then, balloons and satellites carrying equipment from them have detected a slight variation in the energy of the microwave radiation, which has traveled a distance of 14 billion light years before reaching Earth.
"Anisotropic" differences in the density of the early universe serve as the structural core of what later became the structure of the universe, such as galaxies, say the physicists.
MAP expects to give the best look yet at the Big Bang fossils and they provide measurements 1,000 times more accurate than the previous satellite, Kobe (the Cosmic Background Explorer).
The scientists expect that the new spacecraft will help them solve or at least make progress in solving some of the great mysteries of the universe: what happened right after the big bang, how did the universe develop, what shape does the universe have, what is it made of, and most importantly - will the universe collapse?
After launch, MAP should travel for three months to its observation point - 1.5 million km away. This distance is designed to prevent microwave radiation originating from the Earth or the Sun from interfering with the observations, which should be completed within 18 months.
The MAP satellite will restore the image of the universe at its beginning

NASA launched a satellite to study the cosmic background radiation
by Tamara Traubman
Yesterday, just before midnight, NASA launched from the Cape Canaveral base in Florida, a satellite known as MAP that will investigate primordial radiation that has survived since the Big Bang. This radiation, known as the "Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation", surrounds the entire universe, and by measuring tiny temperature differences within it, it is possible to reconstruct the state of the universe from billions of years ago, when it was in its infancy. The members of the research team hope that the satellite, which will measure radiation with unprecedented precision, will provide the most accurate picture of the universe's infancy.

"We are very excited," Dr. Charles Bennett, the mission's chief scientist, told reporters minutes after the launch. "This mission," he added, "will help answer basic questions that people have been asking for generations."

Prof. Yoel Rafaeli, who studies background radiation at Tel Aviv University's School of Physics, said that the uniqueness of MAP compared to other devices that measured the radiation, is the unprecedented level of accuracy of its measuring devices. These devices are designed to detect temperature changes at a level of 20 millionths of a degree, and in addition, the MAP measurements will span about two years - a relatively long time during which the satellite will repeat the same measurements over and over again and thus reduce the range of measurement errors of the results.

"Our hope," said Prof. Rafaeli, "is that we can estimate in a much more accurate way the answers to questions such as what is the age of the universe, what is it made of, what is its shape, and finally, what will be its fate, that is, will the universe continue to expand forever at an accelerated rate or will it Certain it will collapse and become extinct."

Scientists estimate that the universe was created about 15 billion years ago in the theoretical moment known as the Big Bang. The background radiation reflects the state of the universe about 400-100 years after the big bang, long before stars and galaxies formed in it. According to Dr. Bennett, this is a period of time equal to half of the first day of human life. Background radiation was discovered in 1965 by Arno Panzias and Robert Wilson of Bell Telephone Laboratories (who later won the Nobel Prize in Physics for it). The radiation was seen as a completely uniform blanket surrounding the entire universe. But in 1992, a NASA satellite called COBE discovered that there are small differences in the radiation temperature.

The discovery aroused enormous excitement among cosmologists, and this is because these temperature differences taught about differences in the density of matter and energy in the young universe, and about the trajectory of its development from a small, hot and uniform place to a cold and uneven universe full of stars and galaxies.

"The cosmic background radiation is like a fossil," said Prof. David Wilkinson, a researcher at Princeton University and one of the most prominent researchers in the field of background radiation research, "just as we can study dinosaur bones and reconstruct how they lived millions of years ago, we can study this ancient radiation and reconstruct how There was a universe about 14 billion years ago."

The cost of the mission, in which NASA and Princeton University are partners, is estimated at 145 million. MAP will perform the measurements at a distance of 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth, it will circle around a point in space that the Earth separates from the Sun. "This point will provide a view of deep space and will be virtually undisturbed by the Earth and the Sun," said Dr. Bennett. MAP is expected to reach its destination in 3 months.

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