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The story of discovery of the Universe’s Big Bang is – like most groundbreaking milestones of science – one of good fortune rather than skill. Until then, the Big Bang Theory, which postulated that the universe began life as a dense ball some 14 billion years ago, had not seen widespread acceptance. Some proponents clung on to it, but many favoured the more popular – and the more sensible, it seemed – steady state theory. Which said that the universe has always been this way, and will continue to be this way into the future.
In the mid-1960s, though, it all changed. Astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were trying to tune into the microwave signals transmitted by the Milky Way galaxy. They were having a tough time of it. Along with the signal, their radio antenna kept picking up a persistent weak hiss of radio noise. They tried many ways of getting rid of it. They rebuilt their antenna. They got rid of the pigeons that had roosted in it. But no matter what they tried, the hiss of radio noise would not go away.
Because what Arno and Robert did not know was that the universe was whispering to them the story of its birth.
Now known in astronomy commonly as Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, this noise is like the signature of the Big Bang, from 14 billion years ago, which imprints itself onto every speck of matter that is present within it.
Today the Big Bang Theory is the accepted explanation of how the universe came into being, and it’s all thanks to two lucky astronomers and their pigeon-poop-infested antenna.

Daisy Akhtar

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