We are bathed in so much old radiation...
"We are bathed in so much old radiation..." Disney | Marvel Studios

At least for me, the most interesting thing in the popular superhero TV show WandaVision is the brief mention of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). It happens in Episode Four, "We Interrupt This Program."

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Now, there is no such thing as vibranium, or infinity stones, or pym particles. All of that is nothing more than comic-book matter and physics. But the cosmic microwave background is real. It is all around us. It's a part of the universe we can detect, examine, and measure. It's relic radiation. Radiation from a very early time in creation. God apparently said "Say Cheese," and there was a flash 400,000 years after the big bang. That ancient flash is the CMB.


The Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, is radiation that fills the universe and can be detected in every direction. Microwaves are invisible to the naked eye so they cannot be seen without instruments. Created shortly after the universe came into being in the Big Bang, the CMB represents the earliest radiation that can be detected. Astronomers have likened the CMB to seeing sunlight penetrating an overcast sky.

Two scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, stumble into CMB while trying to make the perfect (noiseless) microwave antenna for the Bell Telephone Laboratories. The year: 1965. The goal: Remove "noise temperature." But no matter how hard they try, the scientists can't get rid of this last bit of low and constant noise. It's just everywhere. Turn this way, it's there. Turn that way, it's still there. Penzias and Wilson even kill pigeons because of they crap all over their instrument. Indeed, our scientists will be remembered for confusing the sound of the birth of the universe with bird shit.

Eventually, word about this noise troubling the Bell Lab researchers got around. And soon, a team that had theorized the existence of the relic radiation at Princeton realized Penzias and Wilson had found what they were looking for. In 1978, the two shared a Nobel Prize for helping connect the dots that transformed the universe from static (steady state) to one with a long and evolving history. It really did start with a bang (which is not like an explosion but is an inflation that produces more and more space). This is what the CMB proved. The "cosmic egg" that appeared in the thoughts and math of the great French priest/scientist, Georges Lemaître, was real. The universe had a story to tell like that of creation in The Bible. There was a beginning, and in the beginning there was what Lemaître called a "hidden God, hidden... in the beginning of the universe."

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But what's the CMB doing in WandaVision?

In the fourth episode [SPOILER ALERT], an astrophysicist, Dr. Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), helping fed-looking agents figure out what the hell is going on in the town of Westview, determines that a large amount of CMB is weirdly concentrated in the area. This detection (which is nonsense science) leads the astrophysicist to suspect that an old-fashioned telly might help solve the mystery. The connection made between CMB and old-school televisions (the ones with a vacuum tube and electron guns), however, has some actual science in it.

As NASA explains:

The cosmic microwave background blankets the universe and is responsible for a sizeable amount of static on your television set—well, before the days of cable. Turn your television to an "in between" channel, and part of the static you'll see is the afterglow of the big bang.

And it is here that we find the only reason why CMB is in WandaVision, a show that spends a considerable amount of its time in the Golden Age of television. (And also a show about the history of family-friendly sitcoms.) Some of the "war of the ants" that erupts when a TV dial settles on a dead channel is relic radiation. "In the beginning" has never been that far away from us. It's still to this day almost right here, in a universe that's been happening for nearly 19 billion years.