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Measurement and Implications of the Cosmic Microwave Background Spectrum

  • John C. Mather (a1)

Abstract

The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was developed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center to measure the diffuse infrared and microwave radiation from the early universe. It also measured emission from nearby sources such as the stars, dust, molecules, atoms, ions, and electrons in the Milky Way, and dust and comets in the Solar System. It was launched 18 November 1989 on a Delta rocket, carrying one microwave instrument and two cryogenically cooled infrared instruments. The Far Infrared Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) mapped the sky at wavelengths from 0.01 to 1 cm, and compared the CMBR to a precise blackbody. The spectrum of the CMBR differs from a blackbody by less than 0.03%. The Differential Microwave Radiometers (DMR) measured the fluctuations in the CMBR originating in the Big Bang, with a total amplitude of 11 parts per million on a 10° scale. These fluctuations are consistent with scale-invariant primordial fluctuations. The Diffuse Infrared Background Experiment (DIRBE) spanned the wavelength range from 1.2 to 240 μm and mapped the sky at a wide range of solar elongation angles to distinguish foreground sources from a possible extragalactic Cosmic Infrared Background Radiation (CIBR). In this paper we summarize the COBE mission and describe the results from the FIRAS instrument. The results from the DMR and DIRBE were described by Smoot and Hauser at this Symposium.

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