Princeton-designed satellite probing radiation 1 million miles from Earth


Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- A NASA satellite that Princeton scientists helped conceive and build has completed a three-month journey into space and has begun its job of probing leftover radiation from the Big Bang.

The satellite lifted off from Cape Canaveral June 30 and traveled a million miles from Earth to a unique spot never before occupied by a satellite. The complex trip involved three swings around the earth followed by a close pass by the moon, which helped sling the satellite to its final spot.

"It was as ideal as you can imagine," Princeton physicist Lyman Page said of the flight. "Once it got off the ground, everything went off without a hitch."

The satellite, called the Microwave Anisotropy Probe, is measuring slight variations in the background temperature of the universe. The data will produce a detailed, whole-sky map of the variations. Astrophysicists regard this map as a key piece of data that will answer several fundamental questions about the age, structure and fate of the universe.

Page said the first data transmissions indicate that all the satellite's scientific instruments, key parts of which were constructed in the University's own shops, are functioning as planned.

The satellite will have data for a whole-sky map in about six months, Page said. It will continue taking data, however, for as long as it can function. The official life of the mission is two years, but it could function for more than eight years, he said.

Princeton scientists collaborated on the satellite mission with researchers from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Chicago, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of British Columbia and Brown University. NASA has spent $145 million on the project.

For more information and mission updates, see <http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/>.

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