Wrinkles in Time

Launched on November 18, 1989, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was a satellite with the mission of mapping the universe as it appeared approximately 300,000 years after the big bang. Specifically, it was trying to prove the existence of ripples or wrinkles in the fabric of space-time, which, according to theory, formed the seeds for the galaxies and clusters of galaxies that exist today. George Smoot was the principal investigator for that mission.

WRINKLES IN TIME is essentially three books in one. The authors provide a history of cosmology and cosmological research; a nontechnical discussion of current thought about the origin, evolution, and nature of the universe; and a first-person account of Smoot’s research career, which culminated in the detection of ripples in the cosmic background radiation by the COBE. The history is pedestrian, and sometimes misleading. There are equally good or better nontechnical descriptions of modern cosmology. However, the account of Smoot’s career, which included research using U-2 aircraft and balloons, and required a stint in Antarctica, is fascinating. Thanks to Stephen Hawking and others, the work of theoretical cosmologists who work with pencil and paper and computers has become well-known. In WRINKLES IN TIME, the reader meets their experimental counterparts and understands the obstacles that they face. Fifteen years passed from the conception of the COBE to the launch. It took three more years to analyze and confirm the data. This is a wonderful account of the frustrations and rewards of science.