U.S. probe seeks infancy of universe

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, dpa

With its lift-off Saturday, a U.S. research satellite began a search for the infancy of the universe.

The probe MAP was launched on a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral in the U.S. state of Florida for a destination 1.6 million kilometers from Earth.

There, the US$95 million observatory will monitor microwaves, which scientists believe to be the “fall-out” from the Big Bang, the single explosion that created the universe. That data will reveal — in the words of one space official — a “baby picture” of the universe.

By monitoring these 14-billion-year-old microwaves, U.S. space officials said MAP (Microwave Anisotrophy Probe) should be able to answer decades-old questions about the origin and fate of the universe.

It will take MAP about three months to reach its monitoring position and one and a half years before the U.S. space agency, NASA, will be able to release its findings.

MAP is not NASA’s first attempt at cosmic archaeology. Nine years ago, the agency launched COBE, or Cosmic Background Explorer, but it was not advanced enough to provide an exact analysis.

Although MAP is expected to give a full picture of the Big Bang, an even more advanced probe called PLANCK is to be launched in 2007 by the European space agency ESA.