Robert Woodrow Wilson


US radioastronomer who, with Arno Penzias, in 1964-65 detected the cosmic background radiation, which is thought to represent a residue of the primordial Big Bang. He and Penzias shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for Physics for their work on microwave radiation.

Wilson was born in Houston, Texas, and studied at Rice University and the California Institute of Technology. In 1963 he joined the Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey; he was made head of the Radiophysics Department in 1976.
In 1964, Wilson and Penzias tested a radiotelescope and receiver system for the Bell Telephone Laboratories with the intention of tracking down all possible sources of static that were causing interference in satellite communications. They found a high level of isotropic background radiation at a wavelength of 7.3 cm/2.9 in, with a temperature of 3.1K (276°C/529°F). This radiation was a hundred times more powerful than any that could be accounted for on the basis of any known sources.
Unable to explain this signal, Wilson and Penzias contacted Princeton University, where it was immediately realized that their findings confirmed predictions of residual microwave radiation from the beginning of the universe.

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