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ESA hits scientists with hefty Planck

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The European Space Agency has released the first scientific results from its Planck microwave observatory, representing "thousands of very cold, individual sources which the scientific community is now free to explore".

Among the goodies on offer is "evidence for an otherwise invisible population of galaxies shrouded in dust billions of years in the past".

ESA explains: "Visible-light telescopes see little more than the final act: the tapestry of galaxies around us. But by making measurements at wavelengths between the infrared and radio, Planck is able to work back in time and show us the preceding two acts.

"The results released today contain important new information about the middle act, when the galaxies were being assembled."

Eventually, Planck will turn its attention to the first act, "the formation of the first large-scale structures in the Universe, where the galaxies were later born", and evidenced by the "cosmic microwave background radiation, released just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, as the Universe was cooling".

Until the release of that survey data, scheduled for January 2013, astronomers will have to make do with browsing the "Early Release Compact Source Catalogue" of aforementioned cold sources.

David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, enthused: "Today’s results are the tip of the scientific iceberg. Planck is exceeding expectations thanks to the dedication of everyone involved in the project.

“However, beyond those announced today, this catalogue contains the raw material for many more discoveries. Even then, we haven’t got to the real treasure yet, the cosmic microwave background itself.”

ESA has more on the data release here. ®

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