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The Very First Light: The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe


First Light & Reionization - NASA JWST

In the early 1990s, a NASA-led team of scientists changed the way we view the universe. With the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) project, they showed that the microwave radiation that fills the universe must have come from the Big Bang-effectively proving the Big Bang theory beyond any doubt. It was one of the greatest scientific findings of our generation, perhaps of all time. In The Very First Light, John Mather, one of COBEs leaders, and science writer John Boslough tell the story of how it was achieved. A gripping tale of big money, bigger egos, tense politics, and cutting-edge engineering, The Very First Light offers a rare insiders account of the world of big science.

From rough sketch to front-page news scientist, John Mather, and writer, John Boslough, tell the story of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, which, like other scientific endeavors, had its share of failure and success in THE VERY FIRST LIGHT: THE TRUE INSIDE STORY OF THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNEY BACK TO THE DAWN OF THE UNIVERSE.

modern LED light fittings - Edison Tech Center

The First Stars in the Universe - Scientific American

The very first electric light was invented as early as 1800 by English inventor, Humphry Davy. Through various experimentations with electricity, he invented a basic electric battery, soon followed by electric light once he realised that carbon glowed, producing light when connected to the battery. This reaction is called an electric arc.

In 1860, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan set about attempting to develop a practical, long-lasting form of electric light. It was he who realised that carbon paper filament worked well, however did burn up relatively quickly. In 1878, his new lamp inventions were showcased in Newcastle, England.

1877 saw American Charles Francis Brush develop a series of carbon arcs in order to illuminate a public square in Ohio, USA. A few streets, some large office buildings and some stores all utilised electric lights, but the extent of usage was not at all common.

Typically credited as the 'inventor of the light bulb', experimented with thousands upon thousands of alternative filaments to find the best material for a long-lasting, high glow solution. 1879 was the year Edison finally realised that a carbon filament within an oxygen-free bulb glowed, but would not burn up for approximately 40 hours. Later, Edison invented a bulb that would not expire for over 1500 hours.

Lewis Howard Latimer improved upon Edison's bulb with a new carbon filament which he patented in 1881. Latimer was part of Edison's research team, termed "Edison's Pioneers", and in 1882 began to manufacture and distribute his own carbon filaments.

At the turn of the century, in 1903, Willis R. Whitney introduced a 'fix' to the light bulb, so that the inside of the bulb would not darken as the filament began to glow, thus producing more vivid and bright light. William David Coolidge then invented a tungsten version of the traditional filament, which lasted longer than any other filament. This incandescent light bulb revolutionised the way in which we live today.

Interspersed with astronomical history, and ending with a plea for funding disguised as a paean to mankind’s insatiable curiosity, THE VERY FIRST LIGHT is a fascinating glimpse of science-at-work and of the often sublime achievements that are the result when we reach for the stars.