In 1960, Bell Labs built a 20-foot horn-shaped antenna in Holmdel, NJ to collect data from the the first communications satellite, the Echo project (see the AT&T Archives film The Big Bounce). This radio antenna was freed up when the Echo project became obsolete upon the launch of the Telstar satellite.
With the antenna available for research, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson began to use it in 1964 and 1965 to analyze radio signals from the spaces between galaxies. But in their examinations, they always intercepted a microwave "noise" emanating from all directions. This was the cosmic microwave background radiation, or CMB.
Their findings contributed to bolstering the Big Bang Theory, based on the idea that CMB is "noise" left over from the creation of the Universe. The CMB radiation is 3 degrees above absolute zero - and is found throughout the universe. Its presence ended up pointing to the Big Bang as its source.
Penzias and Wilson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 in honor of their findings.
The 20-ft. horn antenna in Holmdel, NJ was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The plaque at its base reads "SCIENTISTS ARNO PENZIAS AND BOB WILSON WITH THE ANTENNA FOUND THE EVIDENCE CONFIRMING THE 'BIG BANG' THEORY OF THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE, FOREVER CHANGING THE COURSE OF COSMOLOGY." It can be visited today.
Produced by Bell Laboratories Written and Directed by Bert Shapiro
Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ