3 Degrees

3 Degrees

      For Arno Penzias

     The universe was born billions of years ago in an explosion whose afterglow still 
     permeates every corner of existence: every atom, every star, every fingernail. Physicists
     call it the cosmic background radiation, and over the eons it has cooled to 3 degrees
     above absolute zero and become very dim. Its detection in 1964 confirmed the Big Bang
     theory.

Even the universe was young once
but though it was small
its events were immense
and shaped the course of all that followed
the matter inside us
the starlight around us

No memories remain of that formative time
but its afterglow is everywhere
faint but unmistakable —
three degrees in the background
pervading our world
whether we see it or not

Childhood’s afterglow can be subtle
a plaintive plea in our smile
a wooden tone in our voice
a muffled cry in our heart —
the background radiation
pervading our life
whether we see it or not


Rob Cook was a founding employee at Pixar and recipient of the first Oscar given for software. A childhood in rural east Tennessee was followed by a period of physical and spiritual wandering that eventually landed him in San Francisco. Along the way, he studied physics at Duke, went to graduate school at Cornell and Caltech, played piano, rock climbed, meditated, and flew planes. He and his wife live in North Beach, and they have a son in Brooklyn. He likes to live at the intersection of art, science, inner exploration, and worldly practicality, sprinkled liberally with adventure and fun.

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