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Cosmic Microwave Radiation and Universe Origins Essay

Introduction & Background

As they were trying to ensure the proper functioning of their newly built astronomic radio-antenna in the year 1965, two American astrophysicists, Arno Allan Penzias, and Robert Woodrow Wilson discovered what is now referred to as “relic radiation,” “white noise,” or “cosmic microwave background radiation” (CMBR). Despite the essentially accidental nature of this discovery on their part, both individuals were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978. The reason for their winning the prize is readily apparent. What Penzias and Wilson did was to confirm once and for all the validity of the Big Bang theory of how the universe had come into being, thus helping humanity to deepen its understanding of the cosmos and its systematic nature. This paper aims to explore the validity of the discovery and its implications at length.

What is CMBR? To answer this question, one must mentally project back to a time when the universe was only around 400,000 years old. According to the Big Bang theory, back then the universe consisted of an extremely hot plasma made of electrons, baryons, and the continually reemitted photons. The latter were continually interacting with the rest of the plasma particles, which in turn triggered the so-called “Thomson scattering”—the entropic dispersal of electromagnetic radiation [Belyi, (2018)]. At the time, radiation was energetically in balance with the universe’s physical matter. Its spectrum was that of what physicists refer to as a “black body” [Robitaille & Crothers, (2015)]. Nevertheless, as the universe continued to expand, the ensuing “redshift” effect was causing the plasma to cool down exponentially with time. Consequently, this made it possible for the slowed electrons to combine with protons (the nuclei of hydrogen) and alpha particles (the nuclei of helium), thus allowing the formation of atoms. The process had gotten underway when the universe’s temperature was around 3000 K [Blackwell, (2011)].

Because this resulted in expanding space between the elementary particles mentioned above, photons effectively ceased interacting with the universe’s early matter while being absorbed by it—a development that can be described in terms of the “let there be light” creationist concept. This makes possible the formulation of the most basic definition of what the notion of CMBR stands for: It is, in essence, the most ancient photons that were emitted at the time when the universe became “transparent” and that continue to fly through the cosmos as we speak. As Howard (2011) noted, “We call the electromagnetic radiation that still lingers from the very early universe the cosmic microwave background radiation— cosmic for its origin, microwave because it shows up in the microwave section (1.9 mm) of the electromagnetic spectrum, and background because it fills all of space” [p25]. Therefore, it would indeed be impossible to overestimate the importance of the 1965 discovery of CMBR, especially given the fact that this development had been predicted to take place as early as the 1940s [Howard, (2011)].

Results & Discussion

Three major considerations support the validity of the earlier claim. They are as follows:

Penzias and Wilson’s discovery drove the last nail into the coffin of the “Static Universe” theory, which had been considered the only legitimate theory during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. It simply could not be otherwise. The discovery of CMBR proved once again that the universe did have a beginning and that it will eventually come to an end in one way or another.

Because of the discovery in question, we are now aware of the universe’s actual age, which is about 13.7 billion years. Just as it is possible to tell how long ago the water was boiling in a kettle that is now only slightly warm, it is also possible to calculate how long it must have taken for CMBR to cool down to its current temperature of 2,725 K [Krauss, (2010)].

Even though it represented a commonplace assumption among astrophysicists up until the early 2010s that CMBR is not influenced by the gravitational lensing effect, the most recent discoveries in the field of astrophysics have revealed that this is far from being the case. As can be seen in a 2014 article by Dai, the gravitational deflection of a “relic photon” is represented by the non-Gaussian component within the 4-point correlation function

correlation function

[p2]. What this means is that the presence of CMBR, established by Penzias and Wilson, can be regarded as yet another indication that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is indeed valid.

Nevertheless, along with having answered some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of the surrounding physical reality, the detectable omnipresence of CMBR suggests that there are many more mysteries about the universe’s origins than one had never imagined. The validity of this statement is best illustrated by the fact that, contrary to the initial assumption of most astrophysicists, CMBR did not prove to be quite as spatially isotropic as it should have been [Hamlin, (2017)]. That is, the infrared map of the CMBR pattern features many regions that are slightly warmer or colder than the predicted isotropic average. One of the ways to interpret the significance of this particular finding is that there must have been some preliminary phase in the process of the universe coming into being using the Big Bang. In turn, this helps to substantiate the soundness of the so-called “Inflation Theory” of the universe’s genesis, whose advocates argue that within a few microseconds after the Big Bang, the universe’s expansion had a hyper-exponential aspect [Aydiner, (2018)]. Moreover, some astrophysicists go as far as suggesting that the apparent (although barely detectable) anti-isotropism of CMBR implies that the pre-Big Bang singularity itself was a concluding point of some cause-effect chain of events that led to its emergence in the first place [Brustein & Schmidt-Sommerfeld, (2013)].


In light of what has been said earlier, it appears that the discovery of CMBR by Penzias and Wilson in 1965 was bound to create a public controversy. After all, the confirmed existence of CMBR is consistent with the creationist account of how the universe was brought into being. On the other hand, the phenomenon of CMBR stands as a witness against almost every religious or quasi-religious outlook on the main principles behind the universe’s function and existence, while presenting the cosmos as being in a state of never-ending qualitative transformation and denying the ontological validity of the notion of “eternity” in the conventional sense of the word. Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude this paper by suggesting that the full scope of the phenomenon’s discursive implications is yet to be realized at present.


Aydin, E 2018, ‘Chaotic universe model’, Scientific Reports, vol. 8, no.1, pp. 1-12.

Belyi, V 2018, ‘Thomson scattering in inhomogeneous plasmas: the role of the fluctuation-dissipation theorem’, Scientific Reports, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 1-7.

Blackwell, G 2011, ‘Elementary sub-atomic particles: the earliest adaptive systems’, Kybernetes, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 200-212.

Brustein, R & Schmidt-Sommerfeld, M 2013, ‘Universe explosions’, Journal of High Energy Physics, vol. 2013, no. 7, pp. 1-30.

Dai, L 2014, ‘Rotation of the cosmic microwave background polarization from weak gravitational lensing’, Physical Review Letters, vol. 112, no. 4, pp. 1-5.

Hamlin, C 2017, ‘Towards a theory of universes: structure theory and the mathematical universe hypothesis’, Synthese, vol. 194, no. 2, pp. 571-591.

Howard, S 2011, ‘The cosmic microwave background songs in the universe’, Washington Academy of Sciences. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, vol. 97, no. 1, pp. 25-47.

Krauss, L 2010, ‘Cosmic evolution’, Evolution: Education & Outreach, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 193-197.

Robitaille, P & Crothers, S 2015, ‘”The theory of heat radiation” revisited: a commentary on the validity of Kirchhoff’s law of thermal emission and Max Planck’s Claim of universality’, Progress in Physics, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 120-132.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Cosmic Microwave Radiation and Universe Origins." November 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cosmic-microwave-radiation-and-universe-origins/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Cosmic Microwave Radiation and Universe Origins'. 30 November.

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