Some years ago, on my old blog, I wrote about a promotional beach ball with the WMAP Cosmic Microwave Background measurements printed on it that was distributed mysteriously to cosmologists. It was a kind of puzzling move since it was given, seemingly at random, to astrophysicists who were certain to know about WMAP anyway, and was not actually purchasable by members of the public. My undergraduate advisor, for instance, received one in a plain manilla envelope shortly after the results were published, and like everyone else who got one, blew it up and put it in his office. It didn’t make him rely on WMAP more or less, he already knew all about the experiment (just like everyone else who cares about the contents of the universe), and it’s primary function seemed to be sitting in the background of pictures taken for faculty webpages. It became so ubiquitous among cosmologists that it’s been featured in shows like, appropriately, The Big Bang Theory. There’s even an interview with the ball’s creator on the Goddard site.
Despite being the kind of thing that would help promote the mission, NASA didn’t sell them, but did devote a website to it for some effing reason. I was jealous, and liberated one from captivity, as I wrote about here:
I am now free to disclose that I have triumphed over the forces allied against me– the beach ball website that mysteriously refuses to sell it, the people who said I would never amount to anything, the journals that keep rejecting my groundbreaking work on the anisotropy of CMB beach ball distribution, everyone. I have, indeed, obtained the ball:
I can’t go into the specifics of where it came from, but let’s just say that a certain physics department who could never appreciate it as much as I do had a habit of carelessly leaving it in a usually unlocked room full of other neglected items, which I thoughtfully did them the favor of not stealing
Despite bragging about my larceny online, I had effed the eff off down to Providence by then, and the beach ball authorities never caught up to me.
Now, years later, the long awaited Planck results have been released; a refinement of the anisotropy measurements done by WMAP with higher resolution, a slightly lower Hubble Constant, and an older universe with more matter. But there’s something missing: a beach ball with the radiation from the early universe printed on it. Well, that and the polarization results that aren’t coming out until next year. Sure, Planck is an improvement on the accomplishments of the WMAP probe, but it’s a little hard to take them seriously when they aren’t willing to put their data on the surface of an inflatable ball.
It was NASA that came up with the WMAP ball, while this time it’s the European Space Agency running Planck— though NASA does have some involvement. If NASA’s outreach division hadn’t just been decimated by the sequester, this could be their contribution. Instead it’s up to the Europeans. Get it done ESA/Planck!