The Big Bang that marked the beginning of time and the creation of the universe was nowhere near as violent as cosmologists have suggested.
"What we see is evidence of a remarkably smooth and uniform event," said Dr. Richard Muller of the University of California's Lawrence Laboratory at Berkeley. "We see the leftover comic radiation of the Big Bang moving out in straight lines wherever we look in space. This suggests a very orderly origin."
Muller is one of three scientists at the University of California who have just concluded a series of experiments to measure the radiation left in space by the Big Bang. High-flying U-2 aircraft lifted their instruments to 65,000 feet, where there is little interfence from other sources of microwave radiation.
What Muller, Dr. George Smoot and a graduate student, Marc Gorenstein, found was cosmic radion - produced 15 billion years ago by the Big Bang, expanding near the edge of space at the same speed in all directions. So closely do the cosmic lines match that there was only a difference of 1 count in 3000 in any two places of the instruments searched.
Their findings do little to explain the Big Bang itself, Muller conceded, except possibly to make it even more mysterious.
"The Big Bang is still one of the biggest mysteries of cosmology," Muller said. "Nobody knows why it happened or where the energy came from to make it happen. It uniformity is now its most distinctive feature, and we can't even begin to understand that."
One curious discovery made by the study is that the Milky Way galaxy, of which Earth is a part, is moving through space at a speed of 1.3 million miles an hour. Heightening the curiosity is the finding that nearby galaxies appear to be moving along at matching speeds, no faster and no slower.
"This is a phenomenal rate of speed," Muller said, "when you consider how everything has slowed down since Creation. Things must have been moving then at close to the speed of light."
The way Muller and his two colleagues measured galactic speed was to measure the velocities at which their own instruments (namely Earth) were moving toward certain constellations, and then match those speeds with Earth's rotation and the motion of the sun.
"We found we are moving the least toward Aquarius and the most toward Leo, which are in opposite directions," Muller said. "It's hard to explain, but it's like running through a rainstorm - you feel it more in the front of the face."
The way Muller explains it, the instruments carried aloft by U-2 aircraft supplied by the Ames Research Center in California seek out the radiation just reaching Earth from the remnants of Creation farthest away from Earth.
"Their light is just reaching us," Muller said, "just as our light is just reaching them."
Scientists agree that the Big Bang creating the universe took place 15 billion years ago, when matter that filled all space became so dense and hot that it exploded and forced space to expand at remarkable speeds.
So dense was matter at the time that it trapped the light released by the explosion for almost 1 million years. Then, Muller said, the matter in space thinned out and cooled down enough that the light was "decoupled" from the matter.
"This light is what our instruments see, travelling at straight lines through space in all directions," Muller said. "This is a mystery of the Big Bang. It's very hard to make anything this uniform."
The measurements made aboard the U-2 covered a huge swath of the entire Northern Hemisphere. The instruments took readings of regions 14 times the diameter of the moon and then compared those readings with similar measurements taken of a region 60 degrees awayfrom the first one in the sky.