The European Space Agency has proudly unveiled what it says is the most accurate map yet of the universe’s origins.
It has already led to new theories about the age, make-up and future of the universe, which contains more ordinary matter and dark matter than previously thought, although less dark energy.
Over a 15-month period ESA’s Planck satellite observed microwave radiation across the entire sky, recording cosmic background radiation from just 380,000 years after the Big Bang; the evolution of the universe.
The data suggests it is slightly older than we thought, 13.81 billion years, and that its rate of expansion is slower than initially estimated.
The mottled pattern of the picture shows minute temperature differences and densities and is an almost perfect fit with the Standard Model.
“This map is not challenging the basic observations that we have already made. For example, the expansion of the universe has been measured, it is there, it’s not going to change. What it is changing is our view of how the universe began, of what are the phenomena that happened at the very beginning of the universe, what people call the Big Bang,” says ESA Planck Mission Scientist Jan Tauber.
There are anomalies: rather than a totally uniform universe there are asymmetries, and a “cold spot” that scientists struggle to explain. But Planck will continue working for a decade to give them plenty to argue about.