Working in Middletown, NJ , I had read about the old Bell Labs (now Alcatel – Lucent) was located in nearby in Holmdel, and also here in Holmdel is the famous Holmdel Antenna Horn, a piece of scientific equipment about the size of a small rotating barn , that was originally intended for microwave satellite research but unwittingly turned out to discover one of the most important tell-tale signs of the big bang.
If you wish to see the horn for yourself it is a national historic site located here in Holmdel , NJ (located across from Garden State Arts Center) , you will need to be escorted to see it, as it sits atop a small hill behind the current Alcatel Lucent corporate building. While its a bit more rusted thant its heyday, its still pretty neat to see how such a humble “radio telescope” helped us better understand the universe we live in.
The Horn is famous for what it’s researchers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson inadvertently discovered with it.. at the time they didn’t know that it would provide the world with some of the first conclusive evidence about the big bang via the afterglow of cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) .
As the story goes, in 1964 Penzias and Wilson were using the Horn for experiments with Echo satellite communications, a type of passive satellite communications technology along with other cryogenic microwave research. As they were setting up their experiments, they came across this odd background hiss/signal, and for the life of them they couldn’t figure out what was causing it, or how to eliminate it for their experiments to work better. The tried all sorts of methods to neutralize this stray ambient “signal” , they analyzed everything from terrestrial radio/tv transmissions, to power lines even to removing bird-poop from the antenna in hope of getting clean signal, but to no avail.
It was only when a mutual acquaintance, who was an astrophysics researcher at nearby Princeton University showed Penzias a research paper that his team was working on, The paper postulated that if the Universe expanded via a Big Bang (a new theory at the time), it would leave a sort of faint radiation trace long after the initial bang, and it was this cosmic microwave background radiation that matched perfectly with what Penzias and Wilson were seeing (hearing?) via the Horn antenna.
Their discovery was so fundamental for establishing the groundwork for the Big Bang theory, that it won them the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering cosmic microwave background radiation.
You can read a more complete story here…