In the early 1990s, a NASA probe allowed us to see a new picture of the sky, one our eyes can’t see directly. It’s a picture of the early universe: an inside-out fireball that surrounds us in every direction we look. This year’s Physics Nobel Prize gave recognition to what Stephen Hawking has called the discovery of the (twentieth) century. George Smoot and John Mather will share the prize for their role in the NASA mission, called Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE.
I hate to brag, but COBE was my #1 prediction for this year’s prizes, as James R. points out in his blog, Physics Buzz. Well, actually James reminds me that I wasn’t bold enough to call it a prediction, so I called it a wish.
COBE’s map was later improved upon by a more advanced NASA mission called WMAP, which I wrote about earlier this year. Both COBE’s and WMAP’s pictures are what one would expect from the prevailing hypothesis on the big bang, called cosmic inflation.