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In early 1991, the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite sent back information to Earth that caused a sensation in scientific circles. This satellite had been hurled into space to peer into the depths of the universe.

But what it eventually produced was far more than pictures and measurements of distant stars. In effect, it sent us snapshots from the distant past, from what appeared to be the origin of the universe. And there we could make out the telltale sign of the Creator’s fingerprints. Someone was there. Someone was there when it all began.

Astronomers, astrophysicists, cosmologists. These are not the sort of people you see jumping up and down with excitement too often. They usually spend their time in research centers going over bits of data that seem unintelligible to the rest of us. But something made them jump in April, 1992. Something really got their attention.

Stephen Hawking called it, “The discovery of the century.”

Another scientist exclaimed, “It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened in my life as a cosmologist.”

Another said, “They have found the Holy Grail of cosmology.”

What was all the fuss about? Information coming back from the COBE satellite provided a final, critical piece in the puzzle of the origin of the universe. What the COBE satellite really did was to prove that the universe did indeed have a beginning. It came as close to proving this as is humanly possible.

Now, let me explain why this is important, and why this shook the scientific community. Let’s say that your picture of the universe leaves no room for God. Let’s say that, for whatever reasons, you simply can’t believe that there is a personal Creator behind it all.

But what’s the starting point? There has been only one answer to that question. It may not really be an answer, but it’s the best people can do when they take God out of the picture. What they say is simply that the universe has always been there. It’s eternal. Matter has always been there. That’s the usual starting point.

When you get down to the basic question of origins, there aren’t that many alternatives. You either start with God or you start with matter. You start with a God who is eternal, outside of time, who can create the complexity around us. Or you start with matter always being there, and slowly evolving into more and more complex things.

But, if the universe hasn’t always been there, it had to have a beginning. Well, that pretty much narrows down the alternatives to one.

How did the COBE satellite fill in the picture of how it all began? How did it produce the final piece of the puzzle?

First, it measured temperatures in different parts of the universe. This provided a picture of how the universe is radiating or dissipating energy in the form of heat. It’s known as the “microwave background radiation temperature.” COBE...

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