"Observing the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation
- A Unique Window
on the Early Universe"
The cosmic microwave background radiation is the remnant heat from the Big Bang. It provides us with a unique probe of conditions in the early universe, long before any organized structures had yet formed. The anisotropy in the radiation's brightness yields important clues about primordial structure and additionally provides a wealth of information about the physics of the early universe. Within the framework of inflationary dark matter models, observations of the anisotropy on sub-degree angular scales will reveal the signatures of acoustic oscillations of the photon-baryon fluid at a redshift of ~1100. The validity of inflationary models will be tested and, if agreement is found, accurate values for most of the key cosmological parameters will result. If disagreement is found, we will need to rethink our basic ideas about the physics of the early universe.
I will present an overview of the physical processes at
work in forming the anisotropy and discuss what we have already learned
from current observations. I will conclude with a brief overview of the
forthcoming Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) mission which will observe
the anisotropy over the full sky with 0.21 degree angular resolution.
MAP is currently being integrated at Goddard and is scheduled to launch
in late 2000. The MAP hardware is being produced by Goddard in partnership
with Princeton University.