Friday, March 29, 2013

New Picture of the Universe

The European Space Agency just released a new map detailing the oldest light in the universe.  To produce this montage, they used images generated during a 15 month period from the Planck Space Telescope.   These images recorded the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — what is essentially the dim glow of radiation that is found throughout all of space. Upon review of the data, it seems to provide more support for the Big Bang theory.  The data also seems to indicate that there is more matter in the universe than previously thought and that the universe is possibly older than we thought.  The newly released montage image of the universe is basically a heat map.  The reds and oranges show warmer temperatures, while light and dark blues represent cooler temperatures. 

The Planck satellite was launched in May of 2009, reaching its orbit by February 2010, when the satellite immediately started its all-sky survey. On 21 March 2013, the mission's all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background was released. 

The mission has the following objectives:

  • To provide high resolution detections of both the total intensity and polarization of the primordial cosmic microwave background radiation.
  • To create a catalogue of galaxy clusters.
  • To observe, measure, and study the Milky Way.
  • To study our Solar System including the planets, asteroids, comets, etc. 

  • Planck represents an advance over previous measurement satellites in several respects:
    • It has three times higher resolution.
    • It has ten times the sensitivity.
    • It observes in 9 frequency bands rather than 5.

    A comparison of the images from Planck compared with the previous two satellites is shown below.

    The COBE satellite was the first to measure the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1992. The resolution was very low and the results more or less vague, as can be seen in the comparison image below (COBE vs Planck).


     Planck's new numbers
    • 4.9% of the universe contains normal matter - atoms, the stuff from which we are all made
    • 26.8% of the universe is dark matter - the unseen material holding galaxies together
    • 68.3% of the universe is dark energy - the mysterious component accelerating cosmic expansion.  The number for dark energy is lower than previously estimated
    • The new age of the universe is now estimated at 13.82 billion years,  This number was calculated from the data, which indicates a slower expansion than previously thought.


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