The Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was young.

What does the universe look like?

It looks, it turns out, a little something like the image above -- a map that details what NASA is calling "the oldest light in our universe." That light, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was young (it was, essentially, the glowing aftermath of the Big Bang). And it has now been detected with the greatest precision ever achieved by a collaboration among Earth's science agencies.

That effort, the Planck mission, was launched in May 2009 and is headed by the European Space Agency -- but it also includes significant participation from Canadian researchers and from NASA (through its Jet Propulsion Laboratory). The project has been measuring the CMB -- which is otherwise known as the thermal radiation that fills the observable universe -- over a broad range of far-infrared wavelengths. And it's been doing that work with one of the broadest goals imaginable: solving mysteries about the early history and the later development of the cosmic stew we call home.

Today, the Planck mission made a big announcement: The universe, it turns out, is 13.8 billion years old -- 100 million years older than we previously thought. And it's also expanding more slowly than we previously thought. Oh, AND: It seems to have less dark energy, and more matter (of both the normal and dark varieties) than we previously realized. 

The Planck discoveries, in all, significantly alter our understanding of the universe.

And the map above is a significant aspect of that alteration. It depicts minute temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of the universe that have slightly different densities, representing what NASA calls, poetically, "the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today." In that, the map reveals patterns of light that scientists can, in turn, use to augment our current knowledge of the universe even further -- so we can better understand its origins, its contents, and, just maybe, its fate.

[For more on the Planck findings, here's NASA's detail of them. And, for the especially bold/motivated/nerdy, here are the Planck papers themselves.]

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: An elderly resident of a village in Japan's Gunma Prefecture.
    Life

    In Japan’s Vanishing Rural Towns, Newcomers Are Wanted

    Facing declining birthrates and rural depopulation, hundreds of “marginal villages” could vanish in a few decades. But some small towns are fighting back.

  2. a bike rider and bus riders in Seattle.
    Perspective

    There’s No App for Getting People Out of Their Cars

    “Mobility as a Service” boosters say that technology can nudge drivers to adopt transit and micromobility. But big mode shifts will take more than a cool app.  

  3. Design

    How Advertising Conquered Urban Space

    In cities around the world, advertising is everywhere. We may try to shut it out, but it reflects who we are (or want to be) and connects us to the urban past.

  4. Design

    Reviving the Utopian Urban Dreams of Tony Garnier

    While little known outside of France, architect and city planner Tony Garnier (1869-1948) is as closely associated with Lyon as Antoni Gaudí is with Barcelona.

  5. photo: Helsinki's national library
    Design

    How Helsinki Built ‘Book Heaven’

    Finland’s most ambitious library has a lofty mission, says Helsinki’s Tommi Laitio: It’s a kind of monument to the Nordic model of civic engagement.

×