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Universe gains an extra hundred million years

Planck also refines matter measurements

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Among the mysteries revealed by the first set of papers released out of the Planck telescope data is a new estimate for the age of the Universe: at 13.8 billion years, it's 100 million years older than previously calculated.

As explained by The Register here, the space probe's mission is to give astronomers a better map of the cosmic background radiation (CMB), filtering out emissions from stars and galaxies to capture only the drastically red-shifted echoes of the Big Bang.

As NASA explains in this release, the CMB “provides scientists with a snapshot of the universe 370,000 years after the big bang. Light existed before this time, but it was locked in a hot plasma similar to a candle flame, which later cooled and set the light free.”

The original temperature of the plasma is estimated to have been around 2700°C. After light was set free and the universe expanded, the emitted light was red-shifted to microwave wavelengths, equivalent to a temperature of just 2.7°K.

Although the 15.5 months of all-sky observations from the probe have thrown up mysteries like the “cold spot” in the CMB we covered earlier, one thing that pleases researchers is to find that “simple models” of the ancient universe are holding up relatively well.

“By showing that matter seems to be distributed randomly, suggests that random processes were at play in the very early universe on minute 'quantum' scales. This allows scientists to rule out many complex inflation theories in favor of simple ones,” NASA explains.

The data has also revised physics understanding of the make-up of the universe: there's less dark energy than thought, and more matter (both normal matter and dark matter). The new estimate for dark energy is down to 68.3 percent of the universe (down from 71.4 percent); dark matter has been revised upwards from 24 percent to 26.8 percent, with normal matter boosted from 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent.

The ESA has posted a video explaining the mission's CMB work (below). ®

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