The hissing was driving them crazy.
Two scientists with the best equipment available were getting nothing but interference. Maybe the pigeons were to blame.
A flock of pigeons had taken to perching atop the big metal “horn” of their radio antenna near . Shaped like a giant ear canal 20 feet wide and 50 feet deep, the horn's smooth interior was designed to receive extremely faint radio signals from far off. The two scientists figured the droppings had to be what was interfering with their readings. They asked workers to clean out the pigeon droppings. Someone – no one admits just who – ordered the pigeons killed. Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1964
Again they pointed the giant ear toward outer space and listened. Even without the pigeon droppings, they heard the same steady, low hiss.
By now they'd done everything they could think of to eliminate it. They had adjusted their sensitive amplification equipment. They had tried receiving in warm weather, and in cold. They had swiveled the big ear opening on its turntable and aimed it directly at New York City, only 50 or so miles away, thinking that the hiss might be originating from all the radio stations or other electronic activity there. They had eradicated the pigeon droppings – and the pigeons.
Nothing changed. No matter what they tried, and Arno Penzias heard it wherever they aimed the antenna. That steady hum would prove to be a critical piece in understanding the origins of the Universe.
The notion that the Universe might actually be expanding had been proposed at least since the 1920s but it was greeted by a great deal of skepticism from the very start. himself believed quite fervently in a “steady-state” model of the Universe. Albert Einstein
In the late 1920s, Einstein dubiously reviewed the calculations of a young Belgian priest who held a doctorate in math as well as physics,
. Brilliant and with a cosmological bent, Lemaître had just started his career as a young lecturer at Catholic University of Leuven. Using Einstein's own theory of relativity to justify his assertions, Lemaître had proposed that the Universe was actually expanding. Georges Lemaître
Einstein didn't agree.
“Vos calculs sont corrects, mais votre physique est abominable,” he remarked in French to Lemaître.
At about the same time, on a mountaintop overlooking Los Angeles, another astronomer was making observations of the distant reaches of the Universe. This was the remarkably multitalented, Midwestern-raised . A young Illinois basketball and track star, Hubble had gone on to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, where, as promised to his dying father, he studied law. After his father's death, however, he started a new career in the field of his passion, astronomy. Edwin Hubble
Hubble took a job as an astronomer at Mount Wilson Observatory soon after World War I. He and his wife, Grace, would make San Marino home for much of their lives, and they would become friends with Gary Cooper and other luminaries in the film world. The same cloudless skies and still air that lured the fledgling movie industry to Hollywood had brought the world's most powerful telescope to this cavernous dome atop Mount Wilson. Pipe-smoking, practical, and meticulous in his observations, Hubble spent his evenings in the quiet observatory studying the heavens with the Hooker telescope's 100-inch-wide polished mirror, which, on July 1, 1917, had been painstakingly hauled up the steep, rocky road on a flatbed truck going 1 mph. While the 1920s roared in the glittering nighttime city far below him, Hubble peered deeper into the Universe than humans had ever seen before.