The COBE images, heralded as "wrinkles in time," were vast wisps 500 million to 10 billion light-years across that filled the sky. They were solid proof of temperature differences but did not provide any information about detailed structure. Newer instruments called BOOMERANG, MAXIMA and DASI made significant advances, including demonstrating the flatness of the universe, but were unable to capture the elusive primordial structure as the new images have.
The Cosmic Background Imager in Chile is 13 telescopes linked to form an interferometer, an instrument that can gather far more detailed information than the telescopes would separately.
The machine is the highest-altitude scientific instrument in the world. It is at Llano de Chajnantor, a windy, freezing Chilean plateau at 16,700 feet, where scientists must use bottled oxygen to work.
The next step for those probing the radiation is to look for polarized light waves, waves that fluctuate in a single plane instead of a variety of directions. This could yield even higher-resolution images and even more tantalizing details of these galactic precursors.