The European Planck spacecraft has gained the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe. The results of this map suggest that the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and that is 13,800 million years, 100 million years older than previously believed. The data also show that in the universe there is less energy and dark matter than previously known.
"Astronomers around the world have been on the tip of their seats waiting for this map," said Joan Centrella, who is a Planck scientific program in the NASA Headquarters building located in Washington. "These measurements are profoundly important for many areas of science and future space missions. We are pleased to have worked with ESA (European Space Agency, or ESA, for its acronym in English) in this historic effort" .
The most recent estimate of the expansion rate of the universe, known as the Hubble constant is 67.15 plus or minus 1.2 kilometers / second / megaparsec. A megaparsec represents about 3 million light years. This is lower than previous estimates made based on data provided by space telescopes such as Spitzer and Hubble, NASA, using a different technique. The recalculation of the content of dark matter in the universe is 26.8 percent, which means a figure 24 percent higher than previously recorded, while dark energy fell to 68.3 percent, a figure lower than the 71 , 4 percent had been registered. Normal matter has now reached 4.9 percent, which is more than the 4.6 percent recorded in the records.
This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as it was detected by the Planck mission with the highest accuracy that has so far. Image Credit: ESA and Planck. Click here to see a video in English related to this story.
Planck is a mission of the European Space Agency. NASA contributed technology for both of Planck scientific instruments, scientific and Americans, Europeans and Canadians worked together to analyze the data from Planck.
The map, based on the first 15.5 months of all-sky observations, reveals the tiny temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, an ancient light that has traveled for billions of years since the beginning of the universe to reach to us. The light patterns represent the seeds of galaxies and clusters of galaxies that we see around us today.
"While this ancient light travels to us, matter acts as an obstacle that stands in your way and slightly changes the patterns," said Charles Lawrence, the U.S. scientist who is Planck project in Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Jet Propulsion Laboratory or JPL, for its acronym in English) of NASA in Pasadena, California. "The Planck map of the universe reveals not only younger, but also matter, including dark matter, from all over the universe."
Planck was launched in 2009 and has been "scanning" (exploring) the heavens ever since, putting together a map of the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang that created our universe, according to this theory. This residual radiation gives scientists a snapshot of our universe 370,000 years after the Big Bang.
The cosmic microwave background is remarkably uniform across the sky, except for tiny variations that reveal the traces of sound waves that triggered the quantum fluctuations in the universe just after its birth. These tracks, which are seen as spots on the map of Planck are the seeds from which grew the matter, forming stars and galaxies. Previously, much was learned using probes placed in balloons and also through space missions, which allowed studying these patterns, among which includes the Microwave Anisotropy Probe Wilkinson (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, for his acronym in English) and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE Cosmic Background Explorer or, by its acronym in English), which won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2006. Planck is the successor of these satellites. It covers a wider range of light frequencies with improved sensitivity and resolution.
This chart illustrates the evolution of satellites designed to measure the residual light old Big Bang that our universe originated 13 800 million years ago. Planck has created a map of the entire sky in more detail than has ever been made of the radiation from the cosmic microwave background, thus revealing light patterns as small as twelfth grade in the sky.
The age, content and other fundamental features of our universe are described in the "standard model" of cosmology, which astronomers have developed over the years. These new data have allowed researchers to test and improve the standard model as accurately as possible today. At the same time, there have been some curious features, which do not fit entirely in a single image. For example, the model assumes that the sky is the same everywhere, but the light patterns are asymmetric in the two halves of the sky and there is a stain that extends over a piece of heaven is greater than what is expected.
"On one hand, we have a simple model that fits our observations extremely well but, on the other, we are seeing some strange characteristics that force us to rethink some of the basic assumptions," says Jan Tauber, who is the scientific Planck project, the European Space Agency based in the Netherlands. "This is the beginning of a new journey, and we hope that our ongoing analysis of the data provided by the Planck probe help us to shed light on this enigma."
The full results that gave Planck, which continues to explore the heavens, will be released in 2014.