How Satellites Answer Cosmology's Big Questions | John Mather | TEDxNiendorf | Summary and Q&A

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September 25, 2023
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How Satellites Answer Cosmology's Big Questions | John Mather | TEDxNiendorf

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Summary

This video discusses the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite and its role in measuring the heat radiation of the Big Bang. It also explores the James Webb Space Telescope and its goals of observing distant galaxies, black holes, and the formation of stars and planets. The video touches on the surprises discovered so far, such as the rapid growth of the first galaxies, and the biggest unanswered questions in cosmology, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the purpose of the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite?

The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was launched by NASA in 1989 to measure the heat radiation of the Big Bang. It aimed to determine the color and brightness of this radiation across different wavelengths, particularly around one millimeter, which falls between microwave radiation and visible light. Additionally, COBE sought to examine the uniformity of the radiation and understand the density variations in the early Universe that led to the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

Q: How did the satellite measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang?

The satellite used two methods to measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang. Firstly, it employed a Fourier spectrometer to break up the incoming radiation into different wavelengths for measurement. The measured radiation was then compared to a simulation of the early Universe known as a black body, often represented by a large piece of black plastic in front of the instrument. This comparison allowed scientists to validate that the measurements aligned with the predictions of the Big Bang Theory. Secondly, COBE had microwave receivers that functioned similar to television or radio receivers, capturing the brightness of the microwaves from early times in different directions.

Q: How did the work with the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite contribute to solidifying the Big Bang Theory?

The work with the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite helped solidify the Big Bang Theory by confirming the predictions of the theory through precise measurements of the heat radiation from the early Universe. The comparison between the measured radiation and the simulated black body provided strong evidence that the observations aligned with what was expected from the Big Bang Theory. This validation supported the understanding that the density variations in the early Universe, as revealed through the radiation measurements, were instrumental in the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets.

Q: What is the James Webb Space Telescope designed to observe?

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the world's Premier Space Telescope launched in December 2021. Its primary objectives are to observe the most distant galaxies and black holes that we can find, enabling us to see further into space and further back in time. The JWST is aimed at identifying and studying the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, as well as the initial growth of black holes. Closer to home, the telescope also aims to investigate the birth of stars within the Milky Way by peering inside dusty clouds of glowing gas that obscure the formation process. Furthermore, the JWST is focused on studying our own solar system, including all the planets from Mars onwards, as well as searching for planets around other stars.

Q: What surprises have been discovered so far with the James Webb Space Telescope?

So far, one of the surprises discovered with the James Webb Space Telescope is that the first galaxies grew more quickly than anticipated. These galaxies turned out to be brighter, hotter, and bigger than initially expected, and they appeared earlier in the Universe's history. The reasons behind this discrepancy are currently unknown, presenting an exciting mystery for scientific investigation.

Q: What are some of the biggest unanswered questions in cosmology today?

Some of the biggest unanswered questions in cosmology today pertain to the nature and behavior of dark matter and dark energy. Although we may never fully understand what dark matter and dark energy actually are, we can strive to comprehend what they do within the Universe. There are also questions surrounding the growth of the first galaxies from primordial material, the presence of black holes at the center of most large galaxies, and how these black holes attained their massive sizes, potentially billions of times the mass of the Sun. While there are observations and numerous theories, these fundamental questions remain to be definitively answered. Additionally, the discrepancies in the estimated rate of expansion of the universe, known as the "cosmic tension," lead to the potential consideration of new forms of dark matter or dark energy that could explain these inconsistencies.

Takeaways

In summary, the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite played a crucial role in measuring the heat radiation of the Big Bang and confirming the predictions of the Big Bang Theory. The James Webb Space Telescope, on the other hand, aims to observe distant galaxies, black holes, and the birth of stars and planets, providing insights into the formation and evolution of the Universe. Surprising discoveries have already been made, such as the rapid growth of the first galaxies. However, many significant questions in cosmology remain unanswered, including the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the evolution of galaxies and black holes, and the rate of expansion of the universe. Continued research and observations, such as those conducted with the JWST, are critical in advancing our understanding of these fundamental phenomena.

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