Cosmic Signature

We've all seen lots of examples of pareidolia - misinterpreting random noise as significant patterns - and Phil has provided countless examples over the years. A new one was pointed out to me by a colleague just the other day. It is in this great image of the cosmic microwave background radiation as seen by WMAP.

WMAP 5 year extract
Internal Linear Combination Map using 5 years of WMAP data. CREDIT: The WMAP team
Can you see it? I'll give you a clue. You are looking for the initials of one of the world's most famous physicists. He has been on the Simpsons, in Star Trek, and has even been a fictional hip-hop artist. I couldn't spot it until it was physically pointed out to me but now I can't help but see it every time I look at the map.

WMAP 5 year
Part of the Internal Linear Combination Map using 5 years of WMAP data. CREDIT: The WMAP team.
If you're having trouble, here is a close up of the relevant part of the image. It is taken from a patch just to the left of centre in the Mollweide projection above. The initials S and H can be seen straddling the boundaries between Cygnus, Lyra, Hercules, Sagitta and Aquila.

Of course this doesn't mean that Stephen Hawking has graffitied the universe on a cosmic scale. They are just random temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background that happen to look vaguely like letters. To make matters worse, they have even less significance because they are very close to the plane of the Milky Way (which runs across the middle of the full sky map above) and this region of the map suffers from contamination by the galaxy.

It reminds me of a story I once heard about someone managing to write ELVIS into an interferometric image by cleaning the data in just the right (or wrong!) way.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 20th Feb 2009 (02:52 GMT) | Permalink
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