Our quest to understand the origin, evolution, and make-up of the universe has undergone dramatic and surprising advances over the last decades. Much of the progress has been driven by measurements of cosmic microwave background radiation—the fossil light from the big bang—that provide a glimpse of the universe as it was 14 billion years ago. By studying tiny variations in the background radiation, cosmologists have been able to test theories of the origin and evolution of the universe, as well as determine that ordinary matter (the stuff that makes up stars and humans alike) accounts for a mere 4% of the density of the universe, that dark matter accounts for six times that amount, and that still-elusive and poorly understood “dark energy” is required to make up the remaining 70% of the universe. After reviewing how we have arrived at such startling conclusions, this talk focuses on new measurements being carried out with the 10-meter South Pole Telescope to test theories of the origin of the universe and to investigate the nature of mysterious dark energy.
Recorded Thursday, October 11, 2012 at the School of the Art Institute Chicago.