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Most Precise Snapshot Ever of the Infant Universe Unveiled


Image credit: The cosmic microwave background (CMB) as observed by Planck. The CMB is a snapshot of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old / ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Although the universe has the history of 13.8 billion years, it is possible to show its baby photos based on data collected by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. Recently astronomers have disclosed the most probably precise maps of the universe that was only 380,000 years ago. The data were released at the Planck 2014 conference in Ferrara, Italy, not long ago and would be made public very soon.

Planck was launched in May 2009, being designed to map the entire sky in nine frequencies from the range of microwave to sub-millimeter wavelengths. Its mission was targeted on observation of the first light in the universe. Quite shortly after the Big Bang, the universe was filled with radiation, remnants of which are observed by today’s astronomers as the cosmic microwave background (CMB), that could be thought to the misty afterglow of the Big Bang — a snapshot of the oldest light marked on the sky during the earlier period of the universe.

With expansion of the universe, radiation cooled down and was stretched to microwave wavelengths, which have various temperatures slightly felt across the sky. In the image presented in March 2013, the small temperature fluctuations could be observed in the way that red is warmer and blue is cooler. These fit into the regions with lightly different densities, vividly demonstrating the seeds of all the stars and galaxies in the existing universe. After its continuous survey over CMB radiation for four years, Planck finally ended operations in October 2013.

The recently released data collected during the period of the last four years have been able to confirm and refine the measurements made earlier. In comparison of the first results presented by Planck last year, so much has remained unchanged. According to Science News reports, generally speaking, the standard model appears to keep on fitting very well and error bars have decreased, thus nothing improper is shown up at the moment.

In addition to confirming preliminary data in more precise way, something new has turned up. Besides temperature, the microwaves could be also slightly different in their polarization, or the way the waves would align with each other.

As New York Times explained, the new maps showed how the microwaves are polarized, which could give clues to what was going on when the universe was a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old.

The latest data also make some ideas regarding dark matter impossible, dark matter used to be thought as the mysterious substance holding galaxies together. After studying all these slight variations in temperature and polarization together with the distribution of galaxies, scientists have drawn the conclusion in regard to the composition of the universe, 5 percent is ordinary matter, 27 percent go to dark matter, and 68 percent are weird dark energy stretched over the space.