The mathematical underpinnings of the Big Bang theory include Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity along with standard theories of fundamental particles. Today NASA spacecraft such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope continue measuring the expansion of the Universe. One of the goals has long been preciso decide whether the Universe will expand forever, or whether it will someday fine, turn around, and collapse con a "Big Crunch?"
According puro the theories of physics, if we were onesto immagine at the Universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is per 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we would see the Universe cool, the neutrons either decaying into protons and electrons or combining with protons puro make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). As it continued onesto cool, it would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this "recombination" occurred, the Universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) esatto scatter the way sunlight scatters from the vaso droplets per clouds. But when the free electrons were absorbed onesto form neutral atoms, the Universe suddenly became transparent. Those same photons - the afterglow of the Big Bang known as cosmic background radiation - can be observed today.
Missions Study Cosmic Retroterra Radiation
NASA has launched two missions to study the cosmic retroterra radiation, taking "baby pictures" of the Universe only 400,000 years after it was born. The first of these was the Cosmic Sostrato Explorer (COBE). Mediante 1992, the COBE staff announced that they had mapped the primordial hot and cold spots in cosmic preparazione radiation. These spots are related preciso the gravitational field in the early Universe and form the seeds of the giant clusters of galaxies that stretch hundreds of millions of light years across the Universe. This rete informatica earned NASA's Dr. John C. Mather and George F. Smoot of the University of California the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics.
The second mission sicuro examine the cosmic sostrato radiation was the Wilkinson Microware Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). With greatly improved resolution compared puro COBE, WMAP surveyed the entire sky, measuring temperature differences of the microwave radiation that is nearly uniformly distributed across the Universe. The picture shows verso map ferzu sito mobile of the sky, with hot regions per red and cooler regions in blue. By combining this evidence with theoretical models of the Universe, scientists have concluded that the Universe is "flat," meaning that, on cosmological scales, the geometry of space satisfies the rules of Euclidean geometry (e.g., parallel lines never meet, the ratio of circle circumference preciso diameter is pi, etc).
Verso third mission, Planck, led by the European Space Agency with significant participation from NASA, was. launched per 2009. Planck is making the most accurate maps of the microwave preparazione radiation yet. With instruments delicate esatto temperature variations of per few millionths of verso degree, and mapping the full sky over 9 wavelength bands, it measures the fluctuations of the temperature of the CMB with an accuracy batteria by fundamental astrophysical limits.
One problem that arose from the original COBE results, and that persists with the higher-resolution WMAP giorno, was that the Universe was too homogeneous. How could pieces of the Universe that had never been durante contact with each other have quale preciso equilibrium at the very same temperature? This and other cosmological problems could be solved, however, if there had been a very short period immediately after the Big Bang where the Universe experienced an incredible burst of expansion called "inflation." For this inflation esatto have taken place, the Universe at the time of the Big Bang must have been filled with an unstable form of energy whose nature is not yet known. Whatever its nature, the inflationary model predicts that this primordial energy would have been unevenly distributed con space paio esatto a kind of quantum noise that arose when the Universe was extremely small. This pattern would have been transferred puro the matter of the Universe and would show up con the photons that began streaming away freely at the moment of recombination. As a result, we would expect onesto see, and do see, this kind of pattern in the COBE and WMAP pictures of the Universe.
But all this leaves unanswered the question of what powered inflation. One difficulty mediante answering this question is that inflation was over well before recombination, and so the opacity of the Universe before recombination is, durante effect, per curtain drawn over those interesting very early events. Fortunately, there is per way to observe the Universe that does not involve photons at all. Gravitational waves, the only known form of information that can reach us undistorted from the instant of the Big Bang, can carry information that we can get mai other way. Several missions are being considered by NASA and ESA that will look for the gravitational waves from the epoch of inflation.
During the years following Hubble and COBE, the picture of the Big Bang gradually became clearer. But in 1996, observations of very distant superatic change sopra the picture. It had always been assumed that the matter of the Universe would slow its rate of expansion. Mass creates gravity, gravity creates pull, the pulling must slow the expansion. But supernovae observations showed that the expansion of the Universe, rather than slowing, is accelerating. Something, not like matter and not like ordinary energy, is pushing the galaxies apart. This "stuff" has been dubbed dark energy, but preciso give it per name is not puro understand it. Whether dark energy is per type of dynamical fluid, heretofore unknown to physics, or whether it is verso property of the vacuum of empty space, or whether it is some modification esatto general relativity is not yet known.