The Nobel Prize in Physics for 2006 is awarded to John C. Mather and George F. Smoot for their discovery of the basic form of the cosmic microwave background radiation as well as its small variations in different directions. The very detailed observations that the Laureates have carried out from the COBE satellite have played a major role in the development of modern cosmology into a precise science.
The blackbody origin of the Universe
According to the Big Bang-scenario, our Universe developed from a state of intense heat. There are as yet no well-established theories about this primordial condition of the Universe, but immediately afterwards it appears to have been filled with an incredibly intensive radiation. Radiation emitted by such a glowing “body” is distributed between different wavelengths (light colours) in a specific manner, where the shape of the spectrum depends only on the temperature. Without knowing anything about the radiation apart from its temperature it is possible to predict exactly what the spectrum is going to look like. The somewhat contradictory term used to describe this kind of radiation is blackbody radiation. Spectra like these can also be created in a lab, and the German Max Planck – who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1 918 – was the first to describe their particular shape. Our own sun is in fact a “blackbody”, even though its spectrum is less perfect than that of the cosmic microwave background radiation.