Boomerang Effect; July 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Musser; 2 Page(s)
Usually cosmology goes like this: new observations come in, scientists are baffled, models are upended. After the dust settles, however, patches are affixed and the prevailing theory emerges largely intact. But when the measurements by the Boomerang and Maxima telescopes came in, the sequence was reversed. Scientists were elated. "The Boomerang results fit the new cosmology like a glove," Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago told a press conference in April. And then the dust settled, revealing that two pillars of big bang theory were squarely in conflict-a turn of events that could be nearly as monumental as the discovery of cosmic acceleration just over two years ago.
Both telescopes observed the cosmic microwave background radiation, the remnant glow of the big bang. Boomerang, lofted by balloon in December 1998 for 10 days over Antarctica, had the greater coverage-3 percent of the sky. Maxima, which flew above Texas for a night in August 1998, scrutinized a tenth the area but with higher resolution. The two instruments made the most precise maps yet of the glow on scales finer than about one degree, which corresponds to the size of the observable universe at the time the radiation is thought to have been released (about 300,000 years after the bang). On this scale and smaller, gravity and other forces would have had enough time to sculpt matter.