Physicists Win ‘Oscars Of Science’ For Baby Universe Photo

By Samriddhi Dastidar | Dec 05, 2017 09:47 PM EST
A team of researchers won the Breakthrough Prize for mapping the early universe. The project was a part of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, which captured a photo of the baby universe. (Photo : WMAP Science Team | NASA)

A team of astrophysicists, who captured a photo of the Big Bang’s afterglow and helped in understanding the universe's origin, evolution, and nature, has won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize In Fundamental Physics on Dec. 3.

The researchers had worked on NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe mission and confirmed the standard model of cosmology.

The Oscars Of Science

The Breakthrough Prize is an initiative that was set in 2012 by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google founder Sergey Brin, and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner among others.

The glamorous award ceremony, which saw a total of $22 million being handed out, is considered as the “Oscars of Science.” This year, it was hosted by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman at California’s NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. The event saw appearances by celebrities like Wiz Khalifa, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and more.

Chuck Bennett, who is among the five team leaders from WMAP, said he was grateful that the award was able to facilitate all 27 members associated with the probe because everyone played an important part in its success. Incidentally, the Nobel Prize can be shared by only three people.

Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

WMAP is actually a spacecraft that was launched in 2001. It traveled to the other side of the Earth’s orbit away from the sun. The probe looked for small changes in temperature across the cosmos for about nine years. It looked toward the very oldest light, as far as possible with man-made instruments.

"I think the big impact of WMAP was to go from a kind of collection of miscellaneous facts and approximate numbers to a single theory or model that says, 'Here's exactly what's going on. Here are the numbers,'" Bennett said. "And everything agrees with them — all the different, diverse measurements."

The probe resulted in an image, which the scientists referred to as the universe’s baby picture. The photograph was published just a year after WMAP started to take measurements. The darker colors in the image indicate colder spots and the warmer spots are represented by brighter colors like red.

The universe contains more dark energy and dark matter where it is a slight bit colder. Researchers still do not comprehend what either dark matter or dark energy is. However, with the help of WMAP, they do know that normal matter takes up just a small part, which is less than 5 percent of the cosmos.

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