Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Exquisite Map of Cosmos Hints at Universe's Birth

This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Image released March 21, 2013.

A map of the universe based on its oldest light is giving astronomers hope that they may be able to answer some of the deepest questions of the cosmos, including how it got started.

Scientists met this week at the University of California, Davis to pore over the treasure trove of data published two months ago from the European Planck spacecraft. The observatory measures what's called the cosmic microwave background — light spread across the sky that dates from soon after the Big Bang that kick-started the universe.

"We have the best map ever of the cosmic microwave background, and that shows us what the universe was like 370,000 years after the Big Bang," said Charles Lawrence, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California who is the lead U.S. scientist on the Planck project. Lawrence and other researchers summed up the consequences of the meeting, called the Davis Cosmic Frontiers Conferences, in a call to reporters Friday (May 24). [Gallery: Planck Spacecraft Sees Big Bang Relics]

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