cosmic microwave background radiation

The cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) is radiation left over from the big bang.  When the universe was very young, just as space became transparent to light, electromagnetic energy would have propagated through space at a much shorter wavelength.  Nowadays, the temperature of space has fallen to approximately 2.7 K (that’s 2.7 K above absolute zero!) and, using Wien’s Law, we can confirm that the peak wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation is so long that the background radiation lies in the microwave portion of the em spectrum.

The CMB was first detected in 1964 by Richard Woodrow Wilson and Arno Allan Penzias, who worked at Bell Laboratories in the USA.

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star colours

Astronomers often refer to the colour of a star, which seems a bit odd because we mostly see stars as white twinkly objects.  However, even with the naked eye, we can look closely at certain stars and detect a hint of colour – just look at this image of the Orion constellation.  As we view him, the left shoulder has a red coloured star, while the right shoulder and right foot appear to be blue.


image: Orion 3008 huge.jpg, Wikipedia

Now click on the image to see the same view at much higher resolution.  In the hi-res photo, look at the stars in the background.  They’re not all white!

What can the colour of a star tell us?

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