For the final part of my series to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), today I’m going to show the original papers announcing this momentous discovery to the scientific community. I should point out that I have taken these photographs to portray the historical context, even though it is not easy to read what they say. The papers have been scanned and are available online for free in both gif and pdf format, follow this link to get them.
The announcement of the CMB’s discovery came in two back-to-back papers in the July 1st edition of The Astrophysical Journal (see the front page below). On pages 414 to 419 Robert Dicke and his team from Princeton (Dicke, Peebles, Roll and Wilkinson, 1965, ApJ, 142, pp414-419) described the theoretical work they had been doing which predicted a relic radiation from a hotter denser early Universe.
Then, immediately following on from this paper, on pages 419 to 421 is the paper by Penzias and Wilson (Penzias and Wilson, 1965, 142, pp419-421). For the announcement of one of the most important discoveries in the history of science, both the title and content are very understated.
The title is A Measurement Of Excess Antenna Temperature at 4080 Mc/s, hardly a title to grab the attention.
The paper is nearly entirely technical, detailing their experiment and the steps they had taken to ensure that they accounted for the origin of every signal detected, apart from the “excess antenna temperature” of the title. At the end of the first paragraph of the paper is the following sentence – their only reference to its possible origin.
The paper was submitted on the 13th of May 1965, as can be seen below.
Although the paper appeared in the July 1st volume of Astrophysical Journal, the New York Times had picked up on the story and ran its discovery as headlines in their issue on the 21st of May 1965. Although press releases of major discoveries are now often made when the paper is submitted, I would imagine it was rather unusual in the 1960s for scientific discoveries to be published in the popular press before the journal article had appeared. Does anyone now of other examples from this time and before?
And this is the actual article, from the New York Times archives (one has to pay to get such articles, but it is not much).
That concludes my series to mark the 50th anniversary of this most important of discoveries. If you want to read far more about the history of the CMB’s discovery, as well as its 1948 prediction and what we can learn from it, then check out my book by following this link.