134: John Mather: The Very First Light


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John Mather, is a driving force in space astronomy and cosmology. In 1989 he helped discover that the cosmic background radiation's spectrum corresponds to black-body radiation - radiation emitted by a dark, glowing body. The result provided evidence that the background radiation is a remnant from the creation of the universe in the Big Bang.

John is the author of The Very First Light: The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe. It tells the story of the NASA-led team of scientists from the COBE project that changed the way we view the universe. They showed that the microwave radiation that fills the universe must have come from the Big Bang itself—effectively proving this theory beyond any doubt. It was one of the greatest scientific findings of our generation, perhaps of all time. In this no-holds-barred account, COBE's originator and Project Scientist, John Mather, and science writer John Boslough provide the intimate and startling details of how big science is done today. They tell of the discovery of the cosmic background radiation and of the fifteen-year struggle to design, build and launch the COBE satellite, including the unwelcome controversy when one team member breached the project's publication policy and stepped into the limelight alone. The Very First Light presents a rarely seen inside account of the world of big science, where cooperation and competition battle for supremacy. At the height of the project, more than 1,500 scientists, engineers, designers, and support staff worked on the spacecraft. The project was especially difficult because two of the three instruments were cooled to within a few degrees of absolute zero.When the Challenger exploded in 1986, the shuttle program was grounded indefinately, leaving the COBE with no route to space. The last available Delta rocket was approved for the mission, but now the team had to slash the spacecraft's five-ton weight in half. The story of this feat provides a remarkable behind-the-scenes look into the high-stakes, frenetic world of a big science project and NASA itself. The Very First Light is a portrait of science no serious reader will want to miss.

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