Holmdel Antenna Horn – helping prove the “Big Bang”

Holmdel Horn Antenna National Monument

Holmdel Horn Antenna National Historic Landmark

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.

Holmdel Horn Antenna

Holmdel Horn Antenna

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.

IMG_20140729_182508It 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.

obligtory selfie next to antenna

obligtory selfie next to antenna

You can read a more complete story here…


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