|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: Sci/Tech|
Saturday, 30 June, 2001, 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK
Quest for Universe's oldest light
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse
An unmanned spacecraft blasted off on Saturday on a mission to look for clues about how the Universe will end.
Lift-off went smoothly and on time at 1546 local time (1946 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. US.
The Microwave Anisotropy Probe (Map) will journey into deep space on a voyage to explore some of the mysteries of the cosmos.
With it, astronomers hope to determine the content, shape, history, and the ultimate fate of the Universe.
It is designed to capture the afterglow of the Big Bang, which comes to us from all directions in space and from a time when the Universe was a very different place.
Map will look for faint patterns imprinted within this afterglow that carry the answers to many mysteries such as:
To answer such cosmic questions, Map's observations of the Big Bang's afterglow - the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation - will be compared to the patterns predicted by various models of the Universe's evolution, in an attempt to find the right match.
"Map's unprecedented accuracy and precision will allow us to determine the nature and destiny of the Universe."
According to the Big Bang theory, currently the only one seriously considered by astronomers, the Universe began about 14 billion years ago as an unimaginably hot and dense fog of light and exotic particles.
Since then, the Universe has expanded and cooled. Today, the entire Universe is bathed in the afterglow light from the Big Bang. The light has been travelling for about 14 billion years, thus allowing Map a look back through time to see the early Universe.
Map has a range of sensors that will collect radiation and measure the tiny temperature variations in different parts of the sky.
The Map mission will build on the 1992 Cosmic Background Explorer (Cobe) satellite that discovered a faint tiny pattern, or "anisotropy", in the CMB.
"Nothing has ever been built like it before," said Nasa's Dr Edward Wollack: "To measure the cosmic glow reliably to a part in a million, to millionths of a degree, has been the grand challenge. That's like measuring the weight of a cup of sand down to the resolution of a single grain."
It has been chosen because L2 is four times further than the Moon in the direction away from the Sun and a spacecraft there requires very little fuel to maintain its position.
"I can't wait," said Professor Frenk. "These are exciting times in astronomy and Map will be one of the most exciting."
26 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Universe 'proven flat'
12 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Close-up on the early Universe
21 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
A 10 billion billion billion megaton bomb in space
10 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Before the Big Bang
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top Sci/Tech stories now:
Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.
Links to more Sci/Tech stories
|^^ Back to top|
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education |