Planck Space Mission & the universe translated for the rest of us
The Planck, a European Space Agency mission, which one scientist called the" Ferrari" of such specialized missions, released what is being billed as the most detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe which is changing the way astronomers view the age of the universe, and more.
- This map, NASA reports, 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. Got that? Stay with me.
- What does it mean? The map suggests the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and is 13.8 billion years old, more than 80 million years older than previous estimates.
- Is there reason for excitement? Yes. "Astronomers worldwide have been on the edge of their seats waiting for this map," said Joan Centrella, Planck program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
- Planck results are out! The Universe is 13.81 billion years old (older than we thought), contains about 68% dark energy (less than we thought) but more dark matter and visible matter than we thought, the Hubble Constant is down to 67 km per sec per Mpc, and inflation is strongly confirmed. Cosmology isn't just mindless speculation anymore, it's a real science!
- "Planck is like the Ferrari of cosmic microwave background missions," said Krzysztof Gorski, a U.S Planck scientist at JPL. "You fine tune the technology to get more precise results. For a car, that can mean an increase in speed and winning races. For Planck, it results in giving astronomers a treasure trove of spectacular data, and bringing forth a deeper understanding of the properties and history of the universe."
- This is a terrific summation by slate.com of Planck's findings:
- "One of the most complex aspects of analyzing the data involves the noise from its detectors, NASA explains." To detect the incredibly faint cosmic microwave background, these detectors are made of extremely sensitive materials. When the detectors pick up light from one part of the sky, they don't reset afterwards to a neutral state, but instead, they sort of buzz for a bit like the ringing of a bell. This buzzing affects observations made at the next part of the sky. "
"This noise must be understood, and corrected for, at each of the billion points observed repeatedly by Plank as it continuously sweeps across the sky. The supercomputer accomplishes this by running simulations of how Planck would observe the entire sky under different conditions, allowing the team to identify and isolate the noise. "
- Here is more background on the mission.
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