Pop Culture
Dec 22, 2009, 09:38AM

The messiness of real science

"These weren't sloppy people," Dunbar says. "They were working in some of the finest labs in the world. But experiments rarely tell us what we think they're going to tell us. That's the dirtiest secret of science."

It all startewith the sound of static. In May 1964, two astronomers at Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, were using a radio telescope in suburban New Jersey to search the far reaches of space. Their aim was to make a detailed survey of radiation in the Milky Way, which would allow them to map those vast tracts of the universe devoid of bright stars. This meant that Penzias and Wilson needed a receiver that was exquisitely sensitive, able to eavesdrop on all the emptiness. And so they had retrofitted an old radio telescope, installing amplifiers and a calibration system to make the signals coming from space just a little bit louder.


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