History of the Universe in a Nutshell: From the Big Bang to Life and the End of Time

November 1, 2011

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John Mather

The history of the universe in a nutshell, from the Big Bang to now, and on to the future... John Mather tells the story of how we got here, how the universe began with a Big Bang, how it could have produced an Earth where sentient beings can live, and how those beings are discovering their history.

Mather was project scientist for NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which measured the spectrum (the color) of the heat radiation from the Big Bang, discovered hot and cold spots in that radiation, and hunted for the first objects that formed after the great explosion. He explains Einstein's biggest mistake, how Edwin Hubble discovered the expansion of the universe, how the COBE mission was built, and how the COBE data support the Big Bang theory. He also shows NASA's plans for the next great telescope in space, the James Webb Space Telescope. It will look even farther back in time than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer inside the dusty cocoons where stars and planets are being born today. It is capable of examining Earth-like planets around other stars using the transit technique, and future missions may find signs of life.

John C. Mather is an astrophysicist, cosmologist, and Nobel laureate. He was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on COBE. Mather received his Nobel Prize for the precise determination that the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation is that of a thermal source and the first detection and measurement of the anisotropy. These measurements marked the beginning of the era of precision cosmology. Mather is currently a senior astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Recorded Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.