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: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  2. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.
    Coronavirus

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  3. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.
    Coronavirus

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?

  4. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

  5. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

×