Searching the Cosmos for Background Radiation

Twenty Years Ago — November 18, 1989 — the Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE, was launched atop a Delta rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Here’s the 20th anniversary press release.

(Artist’s depiction of the COBE spacecraft. NASA image.)

And here’s a link to another nice artist’s conception of the spacecraft.

COBE was designed to measure the microwave background radiation left from the early universe. COBE carried three instruments:

  • Diffuse Infrared Background Experiment (DIRBE), to search for infrared background radiation
  • Differential Microwave Radiometer (DMR), to map the cosmic radiation
  • Far Infrared Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS), to compare the background radiation to a known standard

The astrophysics behind it are beyond me, but I like the pretty pictures.

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