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Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Telescopes May See the Big Bang

By May 14, 2009

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The European Space Agency (ESA) launched two space telescopes today, Herschel and Planck, with the goal of looking back in time to gain information about what the universe looked like close to the time of the big bang. The telescopes will be able to look further than any previous telescopes - and the further you look in space, the further you're looking back in time.

The reason for this is because the speed of light is a constant. When you look at a star, you're actually seeing the star not the way it looks now, but the way it looked years ago, when the light was emitted from the star on its way toward Earth. Looking at a star 10 light-years away means that you're actually looking at what that star looked like 10 years ago, because the light left the star 10 years ago and traveled 10 years to get here. The big bang, by current estimates, was roughly 14 billion years ago, so trying to look back there means developing telescopes that can make out objects that are about 14 billion light-years away ... no mean feat.

These two new European satellites will search not for visible light, like the recently repaired Hubble telescope, but for light in ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum that Hubble couldn't detect. Herschel is, with a 11.5 ft mirror, the largest telescope in space. It will examine the infrared range of light, which will allow it to detect the formation of early protostars that elude the observations in the visible light range. The Planck telescope, on the other hand, will explore the "fossil radiation" from the cosmic microwave background radiation in greater detail, providing greater information about large-scale structures in the universe, such as galaxies.

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May 15, 2009 at 11:10 am
(1) Anthony M. says:

It should probably be noted that the telescopes referenced in your article work by sensing electromagnetic radiation. Prior to 300,000 years after the Big Bang, electromagnetic radiation had not yet formed. Thus, to see the events prior to this threshold would require a different kind of ‘telescope’ (sensing instrument).

On a different note, I believe your explanation of the distances of interstellar objects with respect to the speed of light does not take into account the expansion of the universe. For example: an object that was 10 billion light years away from Earth 10 billion years ago may now be closer to 27 billion years away due to the expansion of the universe. Thus, the light has further to travel.

May 15, 2009 at 6:31 pm
(2) Trent D. says:

I don’t think the universe is expanding to be honest. It’s never ending. Stven Hawking is out of his mind anyway.
“The Universe is expanding.”
“Yeah sure it is Steven. Why don’t you take a vacation?”
“Take a walk, well no not a walk but…open up a window or something.”

May 17, 2009 at 10:23 pm
(3) hidflect says:

I’m a little confused about the whole “looking back in time” idea on one point. It makes sense if you’re talking about a star one light year away, but if you looked back at the center of the universe, surely all the light emanating from that point would’ve rushed past us already unless we were pushed from the center of the explosion at a speed faster than light to this outlying point (14 Billion light years away) arriving in time to be AHEAD of the light coming from the center?

May 19, 2009 at 6:08 am
(4) Ross Swanson says:

how can you “prove” that what you’re looking at is the big bang. Science is full of “what if’s” that cannot be answered. There are many other ways to explain what you are looking at.

May 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(5) Burt Jordaan says:

Anthony M. (comment 1) has a point, but the reality is perhaps even more modest than that. The first protostars (mentioned) should theoretically have a redshift around z=20, which is far cry away from the Big Bang (BB) where z -> infinity, or even from the electromagnetic limit (the CMB at z~1100). As he said, it will need some other form of sensor to “see the BB”, perhaps a super-duper gravitational wave sensor.

May 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm
(6) Bob Miller says:

Your numbers don’t add up! If we are seeing light from a galaxy 12 billion light years away which left the galaxy when the universe was only 2 billion years old the galaxy had to be traveling at 6 times the speed of light go get that far from where the earth is now.

July 26, 2009 at 6:53 pm
(7) John P. Cater says:

Okay, say we do develop this mega-powerful telescope. Which way do we point it? I say any direction since every point 14 billion years out in space is the big bang nucleus. Aren’t we inside the big bang explosion shell?

January 5, 2010 at 9:41 am
(8) Zulu says:

There never was a Big Bang. One single big measuring error. Because they didn’t know that our central star, the sun wobbles. See here:

If you dont believe wikipedia look here:


and finally Geoffrey Marcy (main planet hunter at the moment ) and Berkeley. Look here:

The site that started all: http://www.sunorbit.net

January 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm
(9) Wowsers says:

trent d. dont blame hawkins, it was einstein that proposed the universe was expanding. hawkin’s at first thought it would expand to a point and collapse back in on itself. this has been revised. the universe will continue to expand until we break down into our atomic parts (due to the speed of light). so gripe at einstein eh? and while your at it, try and disprove the theory of relativity.
to “find the big bang” u measure using “cosmic radiation” otherwise known as background radiation, not using redshift. although redshifting light/electro does prove that galaxies are expanding away from one another (cept in collision cases like ours will unfortunately do with andromeda). i will remind ya’ll that the epoch just after the big bang is known as the “dark age of the universe”. and i will also remind ya’ll that we can pretty much show where the epicenter was using the spherical shaped cosmic radiation mapping that nasa has completed. we also can predict how fast the qalaxies are moving in relation to this epicenter. we use these in our astronomical equations. gentlemen, every question posed in the comments here can be settled using math we have proven and used. tho complicated in the scope of the equations, we have been doing it for quite some time. “god does not play dice with the universe” -einstein
u all assume their was light in the beginning…
suggest you read about the dark age of the universe and the consequential formation of stars…AFTER the big bang.

June 24, 2010 at 9:40 am
(10) Anonymous says:

Zulu, you are right there never was a Big Bang but what you said is not the reason, you see the reason there never was a Big Bang was because God, the Creator of all things, created the Universe. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. Read the Bible, I advise you wisely the world is coming to an end!! Be prepared to go to Heaven to meet Jesus.

Oh, and the world, the whole Universe, is only about 6000 years old.

July 24, 2010 at 6:25 pm
(11) Ben says:

You are right to be confused ‘hidflect’. I am no expert but have just watched a documentary on the Big Bang, and whilst my understanding of it may not be accurate, I got the impression that yes Planet Earth (or the particles which preceded its existence) was indeed ‘pushed beyond’ at a faster rate than the speed of light.

Scientists estimate that when the Big Bang occurred, what became the Universe expanded from the size of an atom to a tennis ball (the equivalent of a golf ball to the size of Earth) in a million million million millionth of a second. (This is measured in Planck time – have a read up on it and it may answer you questions more accurately than I can). However, that is far faster than the speed of light and although the rate slowed over time, I believe that that is ultimately the process that has enabled us to be so many light years away from Stars now.

Perhaps someone can correct me on this if I am wrong, but that is my understanding.

July 27, 2010 at 9:48 am
(12) Anonymous says:

Yes, I will correct you Ben, the Earth was made by God. There was never any Big Bang. There was only nothingness until God created the things on the world like trees, animals, humans and everything you could ever think of besides the stuff that is worldly as in video games, makeup, jewelery, and all the other stuff and the reason God didn’t create that stuff is because those are the things that displease Him.

And again I am advising you to read the Bible, the end is near and God is coming to get His people and you will see then if you don’t heed to what I am saying, you will see!!

With A Lot of Care I Write This,
Malonie Dyck, 14 yrs of Plum Coulee,
Manitoba, Canada

November 7, 2010 at 12:44 am
(13) Joe says:

Yes it is true. The universe is just some liberal conspiracy to trick people astray from God. They try to use scientific mumbo jumbo to show a universe that doesnt exist, its all smoke and mirrors. Glenn Beck has confirmed the hubble doesnt exist and the money for it secretly goes to global warming alarmists. Read the bible people! Its the only true science there is.

January 1, 2011 at 7:57 am
(14) LB says:

So does this mean that everything in existence would have to reflect enough light that if a powerful enough telescope did exist if you looked at a planet 500 light years away you would be able to see down to the accuracy of a blade of grass? Does light lose its integrity as it travels through space?

February 14, 2011 at 8:47 am
(15) Corey says:

Umm not quite sure on this theory. If 10 lightyears is 10 years ago then shouldn’t 14 million years ago be 14 million lightyears away?

February 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm
(16) Anonymous says:

Thank you Joe, finally someone who agrees with me! You really encouraged me to keep encouraging people. Thank you.

May 25, 2011 at 8:29 am
(17) kronus says:

very presumptious of us humans
how can you see something that happened out of nothing
the laws of physics would not of applied then as all the laws of the universe were established after the force interacted and its effects became visible in our formed expanding universe at best mabey we could see the edge of the rupture as the enegy that makes the basic fundamental particles exist shows its effect as it pushes out the edge of our universe expanding it exponentially and perhaps meaning that the process of forming our universe is still active at the edge of our universe

October 4, 2012 at 9:33 am
(18) Rajaram Gardia says:

When we look at a star, we’re actually seeing the star not the way it looks now, but the way it looked years ago, when the light was emitted from the star on its way toward Earth.but hera how scientist know it was 400 million light away from earth though if the telescope sending electro magnetic wave,that will take million year to reach star and to return back it takes million year,that means the sending wave return after 2 million years from today.so my question is how the telescope make it possible today.

February 5, 2013 at 11:13 am
(19) Santiago says:

Re chevere y re loko

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