Saturday, March 23, 2013

The infant (and lopsided) universe.

This image, which was spread across four columns of the front page of Friday's New York Times, is of the universe (our universe, for you multiverse fans) at an age of about 380,000 years. In terms of human lifespan, this is but a microsecond after birth. Indeed, this image enabled scientists to estimate the age of the universe with more precision than before: about 13.82 billion years old.

The image comes from the European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft, built to to provide the best images yet of the cosmic microwave background radiation, our memoir of the Big Bang.

What's especially significant about this image, according to this Slate blog post by Phil Plait, is that it shows the young universe to be slightly asymmetrical. Note the concentration of brightness at the right of the image above. According to Plait, this could just mean that "dark energy" (which Planck's measurements tell us makes up 68.3 percent of the universe) is changing over time or, more excitingly, that "we’re seeing some pattern imprinted on the Universe from before the Big Bang." 

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