|NASA Studying Dawn of the Universe|
A million miles from Earth, a NASA space probe is shedding new light on the oldest light in the universe - the very first flickers of the Big Bang.
After a three-month space trip, NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) is now charting the oldest light in the cosmos.
"We can now begin the process of observing the remnants of the early Universe," said Dr. Charles L. Bennett, MAP Principal Investigator from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "There is great anticipation within the astronomy community about this mission because of the potential it has to give us key clues to the content, shape, history and the ultimate fate of our Universe."
Doing the Lunar Swing: For MAP, launched June 30, 2001, just "getting there" was half the challenge, requiring NASA controllers to guide MAP through an exotic maneuver known as a "lunar swing." From an initial elliptical earth-orbit, controllers initiated three precision firings of MAPs thrusters sending the spacecraft into a position far enough from the Earth that the moon's gravity would grab it. Using the gravity-boost from its "swing" around the Moon on July 30, MAP propelled itself to what NASA describes as a "quasi-stable" position one million miles from Earth in the direction opposite the Sun.
Looking For the Cosmic Glow: From its distant observing station, MAP will scan the skies for over two years, collecting information on the faint cosmic glow in five distinct wavebands of light. The data will be analyzed and made into a full sky map for each waveband. The first sky map results are expected about December 2002.
According to NASA scientists, the entire universe is bathed in the faint glow of microwave light left over from the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago. By analyzing the patterns found in this ancient light, NASA expects to gather and interpret a wealth of details about the nature, composition and destiny of the universe.
The images of the infant universe are viewed by measuring tiny temperature differences within the microwave light, which now averages 2.73 degrees above absolute zero. MAP's design allows it to measure the slight temperature fluctuations to within millionths of a degree. The unprecedented accuracy of MAP has the potential to revolutionize current views of the universe.
MAP was produced in partnership between Princeton University, N.J., and the Goddard Space Flight Center. Goddard and Princeton University produced the MAP hardware and software. In addition to Goddard and Princeton, science team members are located at the University of Chicago, the University of California, Los Angeles, Brown University, Providence, R.I., and the University of the British of Columbia, Vancouver.
MAP, an Explorer mission, is managed by Goddard for NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington at a cost of about $95 million.
More information About MAP can be found on the Web at: http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov