Mapping Radiation Patterns

Imaging technologies enable detection of frequencies far beyond the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum. These have radically extended human perception, allowing us to peer deep into our cosmic environment. This photograph of the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, visualizes our primeval origins, what is believed to be radiation shortly after the birth of the universe. It’s a cosmic baby picture, whose patterns represent slight energetic variations that eventually gave rise to quasars, galaxies, stars, planets, and us.

This image appears spherical because it’s a panorama of humanity’s cosmic horizon, taken from the Planck satellite. Because of the limited speed of light, it’s centered on what astronomers call our observational center, or the point from which it was photographed. But it’s also a profound reminder that Earth is our ecological center, the only place we’ve found where life has emerged after billions of years of cosmic evolution. Its increasing complexity has yielded our own self-awareness, and this photograph is a product of our inquiry into the origins of existence. By attempting to map our finite perceptions within an infinite 3-D virtual world, we have once again encountered a perennial paradox known as squaring the circle. As we’ve attempted to map an «external» universe, we’ve discovered that, in the truest sense, it has always been inside us. The universe matters because we are the universe mattering.

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