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Pigeons? No, the Big Bang

  |   By Polling+ Staff

t wasn’t the pigeons: It was the Big Bang.

It’s not often that pigeon you-know-what…you know, the white stuff you find on your car windshield or on that statue of some long deceased politician…gets mistaken for the so-called “Big Bang” that many scientists posit as the beginning of the universe.

But no less then the New York Times has reported this:

“On a field just below the summit of Crawford Hill, the highest point in Monmouth County, N.J., almost within sight of the skyscrapers of Manhattan, sits a cluster of shacks and sheds. Next to them is the Holmdel Horn Antenna, a radio telescope somewhat resembling the scoop of a giant steam shovel: an aluminum box 20 feet square at the mouth and tapering to an eight-inch opening, through which the radio waves are funneled into the “cab,” a wooden hut on stilts. From a distance, the whole site could be mistaken for an old mining camp you might come across in Montana or Idaho.

What it once mined was the sky. While listening with the antenna in May 1964, two young radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, picked up an eerie and persistent hum from the heavens. For a long time, they thought it was caused by pigeon droppings that had accumulated in the horn. Instead, they eventually learned, they had detected the beginnings of space and time. They were listening to the last sigh of the Big Bang, which birthed the universe 13.8 billion years ago and is detectable now only as a faint, omnipresent hiss of microwave radiation. 

Up until then, scientists had debated whether the universe even had a beginning; maybe it was timeless. That question was now settled. As important, the discovery brought the beginning of time into the lab, where it could be pinched, squeezed and dissected. Encoded in that microwave fuzz are vestiges of events that occurred when the cosmos was less than one-trillionth of a second old and brimming with energies far beyond the capacity of modern particle colliders.

The cosmic microwave background offered a new window into the nature of reality, one into which astronomers have been peering intently ever since. In 1978, Dr. Penzias and Dr. Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery, and in 1988, the antenna was designated a National Historic Landmark, a symbol of humankind’s ingenuity, curiosity and persistence, and of nature’s ability to surprise and humble us.”

Which is to say, way back there in the stone age of 1964, two young astronomers stumbled onto what they first believed was pigeon-you-know-what but finally realized what they were actually hearing- then and now- are the last audible sighs of the very creation of the universe.

Fascinating with a hint of the hilarious in The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/04/science/astronomy-holmdel-antenna-microwaves.html