March 25, 2013 – Temperature Map of Earlier Universe: Orange areas are slightly warmer than average, and blue areas are slightly cooler.
Astronomers released the latest and most exquisite baby picture yet of the universe, one that showed it to be 80 million to 100 million years older and a little fatter than previously thought, with more matter in it and perhaps ever so slightly lopsided.
Recorded by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, the image is a heat map of the cosmos as it appeared only 370,000 years after the Big Bang, showing space speckled with faint spots from which galaxies would grow over billions of years.
The map, the Planck team said in news conferences and in 29 papers posted online Thursday, is in stunning agreement with the general view of the universe that has emerged over the past 20 years, of a cosmos dominated by mysterious dark energy that seems to be pushing space apart and the almost-as-mysterious dark matter that is pulling galaxies together. It also shows a universe that seems to have endured an explosive burp known as inflation, which was the dynamite in the Big Bang.
Within the standard cosmological framework, however, the new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.
The Planck satellite was launched in 2009 and has been scanning the sky ever since, recording the faint variations in a haze of radio microwaves that fill the sky.
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation used in the kitchen for heating leftovers; that they are important for cosmology was discovered by accident back in 1965 by a pair of Bell Labs radio astronomers, Arno Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, who later won the Nobel Prize in Physics. Using balloons, a U-2 spy plane and a series of satellites like the WMAP, astronomers have been teasing out the detailed features of this radiation.
The microwaves detected by the Planck date from 370,000 years after the Big Bang, which is as far back as optical or radio telescopes will ever be able to see, cosmologists say. But the patterns within them date from less than a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, when the universe is said to have undergone a violent burst of expansion known as inflation that set cosmic history on the course it has followed ever since. Those patterns are Planck’s prize.
It now seems the universe is 13.8 billion years old, instead of 13.7 billion, and consists by mass of 4.9 percent ordinary matter like atoms, 27 percent dark matter and 68 percent dark energy.
The Master of Disaster