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. A photo-illustration of several big-box retail stores.
    Equity

    After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

    Big-box retailers nationwide are slashing their property taxes through a legal loophole known as "dark store theory." For the towns that rely on that revenue, this could be a disaster.

  2. A photo of a mural in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
    Life

    Stop Complaining About Your Rent and Move to Tulsa, Suggests Tulsa

    In an effort to beef up the city’s tech workforce, the George Kaiser Family Foundation is offering $10,000, free rent, and other perks to remote workers who move to Tulsa for a year.

  3. Environment

    Fire Damage to California's Homes Isn't as Random as It Seems

    Experts have a pretty solid understanding of why some houses are more vulnerable than others—and building codes are a major factor.

  4. Life

    How Friendsgiving Took Over Millennial Culture

    In the past five or so years, hosting a Thanksgiving meal among friends a week before the actual holiday has become a standard part of the celebration for many young adults.

  5. A man walks his dog on a hilltop overlooking San Francisco in the early morning hours on Mount Davidson.
    Equity

    When Millennials Battle Boomers Over Housing

    In Generation Priced Out, Randy Shaw examines how Boomers have blocked affordable housing in urban neighborhoods, leaving Millennial homebuyers in the lurch.