Planck – Our Observable Universe Gets Older

If you tuned into the NASA organised teleconference this morning you may have heard some exciting news and answers to questions in relation to the satellite Planck.  I was quite excited to be tuning in at 1am Australian time. I was also relieved to hear that it would be a one hour teleconference although due to lots of questions, the teleconference was extended by a few minutes.

Planck – What is it?

The Planck Telescope which captures the Cosmic Radiation Background.
The Planck Telescope which captures the Cosmic Radiation Background.

Just to clear up a few misconceptions, Planck is not seeking to find space flying hippopotamuses or unicorns flying about the sun. Planck is a European Space Agency mission with international collaboration from USA, European and Canadian scientists, who work together to analyze the data that the Planck satellite detects. The mission was renamed when the satellite was successfully launched and named after the German Nobel laureate Max Planck (1858-1947).

Planck is like a time machine, though it is no TARDIS. Planck is a space orbiting satellite that maps the sky using science instruments with technology provided by NASA. The satellite is providing us with the most accurate data to date.  It looks back to just after the big bang by analyzing the radiation that filled the Universe. This is called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB).

When was Planck launched?

Launched on 14 May 2009 on Ariane 5 from ESA’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Planck has been operational ever since.

How does Planck actually capture data?

Planck listens and records sound waves that traveled through the early Universe, which are translated into frequencies that we can hear. You can read more about the frequencies or download and listen to a recording at NASA.

In its infancy our Universe was a ball of hot plasma that contained light and a mixture of electrons, protons. There were no galaxies, solar systems, stars or planets. Just moments after the Big Bang, sound waves rumbled through our young Universe. The sound waves triggered by  “quantum,” fluctuations rippled through the soup of matter and light, similar to the ripples of a stone dropped into a pond. As the sound extended, it left imprints in the light of slightly lighter and darker patches. By peeling away other sound interference, such as that caused by our solar system and galaxy, Scientists have been able to map this ancient light by seeing the sound echoes of our young Universe.

What has Planck produced?

The scientists analyzing the data captured by Planck have been able to create a highly detailed and precise map of our infant Universe after the Big Bang, when it was just 380,000 years old.

Cosmic Model Background Map created by Planck
Cosmic Model Background Map created by Planck

Due to the accuracy of the data collected by the Planck satellite, it has provided scientists with confirmation of the standard model of cosmology.  The high level of detail and accuracy of the data collected, has also revealed a number of peculiar unexplained features in our the evolution of our Universe that current models of physics do not explain.

Planck’s Phenomenal Findings

Planck's Cosmic Recipe
Planck’s Cosmic Recipe

A new age estimate of the Universe has been derived based on the map results. Scientists now predict that the Universe is 100 million years older than previous estimates (13.8 billion years old).  This is really a tiny drop in the ocean where time is concerned.

The Universe is expanding more slowly than scientists had first predicted.

The composition of dark energy, normal matter and dark matter has slight variations based on previous estimates.  There is less dark energy, which is the unseen and mysterious force that is pushing the Universe apart. There is an increased percentage of dark matter, another invisible substance perceived only through its effect on gravity and, a slightly higher concentration of matter.

By peeling back the layers of interference that lie between us and the foundations of the very young Universe, the data gathered from Planck has revealed that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete. It has revealed some unexplained anomalous findings.

Planck's Enhanced Anomalies
Planck’s Enhanced Anomalies of the Universe – differences in heat and light are  seen in the above picture with the assistance of the white lines.  Note the white circle  around a cooler dark patch in the South-East portion of the map.

Scientists studying the cosmic microwave background can now see temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of different densities. Temperatures at large angular scales do not match those predicted by the standard model, with signals weaker than the smaller scale structure.

Another intriguing anomalous aspect of the map is that the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky are not identical.  This finding is contrary to the standard model of the Universe, which indicated that it should be similar in every direction.

In the map shown above you can easily see the anomalies, including a cold circular spot in the South East portion of the Planck map.

This is not the first time these last two anomalies have been detected. They were previously hinted at by NASA’s WMAP mission, but mostly ignored as a by product of measurement.  With Planck’s precision capturing technology, this information confirms and establishes their existence. An explanation can now be researched and developed, leading to new theories of physics.


One question that was asked in this morning’s teleconference really piqued my interest. The question inquired as to whether this new information gave credence to an infinite multiverse theory. Though the data obtained from Planck is not designed to answer this question, it was not ruled out entirely as a theory that might explain the anomalies.

If you missed this morning’s teleconference organised by NASA, a recording of the broadcast is available to the public at NASA JPL Live, Ustream.


Other external sources you may enjoy

European Space Agency on Planck’s Findings so far 21 March 2013

Planck Mission brings Universe into Sharp Focus (NASA)

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