Universe is older, stranger than we knew
New findings from deep space change the date of the Big Bang.
Scientists have learned that the universe is older than anyone thought it was. And we already knew it was no spring chicken.
Eighty million years have been added to the estimated time since the Big Bang, which scientists now approximate as having occurred 13,730,000,000 years ago — give or take a few million years.
Astrophysicists from the University of Cambridge presented the new findings in Paris yesterday at a gathering of genius space nerds. Their conclusions were drawn from data provided by the Planck satellite, which measures radiation in deep space left over from just after the Big Bang.
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As described in an excited post by ScienceNews, Planck is essentially a supersensitive thermometer that scans the sky for post-Bang radiation and measures the temperature of the radiation to millionths of a degree. Since the radiation cools with time, scientists are able to back date the radiation Planck finds.
Tiny fluctuations in temperature were mapped, with cooler temperatures in blue and warmer temps in red. The mapped data represent a huge advance in the accurate dating of our universe. George Efstathiou of Cambridge said the map "might look like a dirty rugby ball … but some cosmologists would have given up their children to get a copy of this map."
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Additional knowledge gained by the Planck data suggests the universe is not only older than everyone thought, but a little stranger, too. The findings blow up earlier theories that the Big Bang scattered space matter evenly in all directions; instead, the temperature readings show more fluctuations across one side of the sky than the other. That is, the universe is lopsided.
The data support the theory of inflation, which says that the universe expanded faster than the speed of light for about 10 to 30 seconds after the Big Bang, but also indicate that the rate of inflation was slower than earlier best guesses.
Though the discovery that our universe is about 0.05 percent older than previously thought is newsworthy, the Planck data provide scientists with information they’ll be working on for years. Possibilities abound about new physics that haven’t even been considered before and potential proof that there are multiple universes — a multiverse — rather than the one universe we call home.
Some astrophysicists, however, already disagree on the early conclusions of the Cambridge researchers. As a user on ScienceNews commented, "One possible explanation for the newly verified dipole anisotropy in the CMB is that the structure of the cosmos has a fractal geometry and nature's hierarchy extends far beyond the observable universe."
But we don’t know what that means.
Photo: This image released by the European Space Agency and the Planck Collaboration shows the afterglow of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background, as detected by the ESA’s Planck space probe. The radiation 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 the future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. (ESA Planck Collaboration via NASA/AP)
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