On October 17, 1978, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, researchers at Bell Labs in Holmdel, were recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. Using the powerful “Holmdel horn antenna” (pictured), Penzias and Wilson gathered the first experimental evidence that established the “Big Bang” model of the origin of the universe. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1978 was divided, with one quarter each awarded to Penzias and Wilson, and a half share awarded to Pyotr Leonidovich Kapitsa “for his basic inventions and discoveries in the area of low-temperature physics.”
Penzias and Wilson’s breakthrough was another in a line of major discoveries by Bell Labs researchers in cosmic radiation. In fact, the scientific field of study known as “radio astronomy” came into existence through the groundbreaking work of Karl Jansky, who is honored at the former Bell Labs facility in Holmdel with a street, a historic marker, and a monument.
Photo of Holmdel horn antenna at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel. (1962). United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), public domain.