Sizing up the Big Bang
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
News Feature

Astronomer Robert Wilson lifted his fingers to make air quotes around "problem." The Nobel laureate's problem occurred 50 years ago and would help explain the origins of the universe. In fact, it turned out to be the echo of the Big Bang from 13.7 billion years ago, which Wilson detected through a massive, horn-shaped antenna.

Working at Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J., Wilson and colleague Arno Penzias "were measuring thermal noise, and our measurements showed a problem. The antenna had almost twice as much noise as it was supposed to. It was a real disappointment." He went on, "In retrospect, it was the first evidence we've ever had for cosmic background radiation."

Wilson's recollection came as part of a program titled "50 Years After the Discovery of the Big Bang" Thursday at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). He was joined by Avi Loeb and Robert Kirshner, both of Harvard, and Alan Guth of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).