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Cosmic mappers win share of glitzy spotlight

WMAP map of cosmos
A color-coded projection map of the full sky shows temperature variations as measured by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. (NASA Photo)

This year’s Breakthrough Prizes, cast as the “Oscars of Science,” are going to genetic engineers, disease fighters, math whizzes — and the scientists on the cosmos-mapping team behind the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP.

Today’s award of $22 million in prizes is being wrapped into a ceremony at NASA’s Ames Research Center that combines Hollywood glitz with Silicon Valley brainpower.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is the host for the show, which is being televised by National Geographic and streamed live via Facebook and YouTube at 7 p.m. PT tonight. Celebrity presenters include Ashton Kutcher (“That ’70s Show”); his wife, Mila Kunis (“Bad Moms”); and Kerry Washington (“Scandal”).

The prize program was established in 2012 by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and his wife, Julia Milner, in league with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

It ranks among science’s richest award programs, with seven $3 million prizes being awarded this year in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics. Another $1 million is going out to early-career scientists, students and teachers.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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