Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

February 6, 1996

COBE Hotspots: The Oldest Structures Known
Credit: NASA, COBE, DMR, Four Year Sky Map

Explanation: Above are two microwave images of the sky, looking north and south of our galaxy's equator, based on data from NASA's COBE satellite. After computer processing to remove contributions from nearby objects and the effects of the earth's motion, they show "spots". These spots are the oldest structures known - probably the oldest structures humanity will ever know. They are also the most distant. As our universe expanded and cooled, conglomerations of mass formed - these are some of the first. They confirm that only a million years after the big-bang - which occurred roughly 15 billion years ago - parts of the universe were visibly hotter than other parts. By studying the size and distribution of the spots found with COBE and future missions, astronomers hope to learn what matter and processes caused the spots to form - and hence determine the composition, density, and future of our universe.

Tomorrow's picture: If You Could Stand on Mars

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.