Detailed Map Reveals New Information about the Age, Contents and Origins of the Universe

Detailed Map of the Oldest Light in the Universe

This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today. Image credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Based on the first 15.5 months of all-sky observations, scientists have created the most detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, contents and origins.

Pasadena, California — The Planck space mission has released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, contents and origins.

Planck is a European Space Agency mission. NASA contributed mission-enabling technology for both of Planck’s science instruments, and U.S., European and Canadian scientists work together to analyze the Planck data.

The map results suggest the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previous estimates. The data also show there is less dark energy and more matter, both normal and dark matter, in the universe than previously known. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious.

“Astronomers worldwide have been on the edge of their seats waiting for this map,” said Joan Centrella, Planck program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These measurements are profoundly important to many areas of science, as well as future space missions. We are so pleased to have worked with the European Space Agency on such a historic endeavor.”

The map, based on the mission’s first 15.5 months of all-sky observations, reveals tiny temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, ancient light that has traveled for billions of years from the very early universe to reach us. The patterns of light represent the seeds of galaxies and clusters of galaxies we see around us today.

Map Between Earth and the Edge of the Observable Universe

This full-sky map from the Planck mission shows matter between Earth and the edge of the observable universe. Regions with less mass show up as lighter areas while regions with more mass are darker. The grayed-out areas are where light from our own galaxy was too bright, blocking Planck’s ability to map the more distant matter. Normal matter, which is made up of atoms, is only a small percent of the total mass in our universe. Most of the matter in the universe is dark — that is, it does not emit or absorb any light — so creating a map of its distribution is challenging. To make the full-sky map, the Planck team took advantage of the fact that all matter, even dark matter, has gravity that will affect light traveling to us from near the very edge of the observable universe. Planck mapped this light, called the cosmic microwave background, with exquisite precision over the whole sky, enabling scientists to create this matter map. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

“As that ancient light travels to us, matter acts like an obstacle course getting in its way and changing the patterns slightly,” said Charles Lawrence, the U.S. project scientist for Planck at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The Planck map reveals not only the very young universe, but also matter, including dark matter, everywhere in the universe.”

The age, contents and other fundamental traits of our universe are described in a simple model developed by scientists, called the standard model of cosmology. These new data have allowed scientists to test and improve the accuracy of this model with the greatest precision yet. At the same time, some curious features are observed that don’t quite fit with the simple picture. For example, the model assumes the sky is the same everywhere, but the light patterns are asymmetrical on two halves of the sky, and there is a spot extending over a patch of sky that is larger than expected.

“On one hand, we have a simple model that fits our observations extremely well, but on the other hand, we see some strange features which force us to rethink some of our basic assumptions,” said Jan Tauber, the European Space Agency’s Planck project scientist based in the Netherlands. “This is the beginning of a new journey, and we expect our continued analysis of Planck data will help shed light on this conundrum.”

View of the Cosmic Microwave Background

The Planck mission has imaged the oldest light in our universe, called the cosmic microwave background, with unprecedented precision. The results fit well with what we know about the universe and its basic traits, but some unexplained features are observed.
The top map shows Planck’s all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background, whereas the bottom map shows the largest-scale features of the map.
One of the anomalies observed by Planck, and hinted at before by previous missions, is an asymmetry in the temperature fluctuations of the ancient light across two halves of our sky. Temperature variations are represented by the different colors, with red being warmer and blue, cooler. The extent of these variations is greater on the hemisphere shown at right than the one at left. This goes against the accepted simple model of our universe, which holds that the sky is the same in all directions. Scientists are in the process of incorporating these and other anomalies into their picture of the universe. Image credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

The findings also test theories describing inflation, a dramatic expansion of the universe that occurred immediately after its birth. In far less time than it takes to blink an eye, the universe blew up by 100 trillion trillion times in size. The new map, 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.

“Patterns over huge patches of sky tell us about what was happening on the tiniest of scales in the moments just after our universe was born,” Lawrence said.

Planck launched in 2009 and has been scanning the skies ever since, mapping the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the theorized big bang that created our universe. This relic radiation 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 cosmic microwave background is remarkably uniform over the entire sky, but tiny variations reveal the imprints of sound waves triggered by quantum fluctuations in the universe just moments after it was born. These imprints, appearing as splotches in the Planck map, are the seeds from which matter grew, forming stars and galaxies. Prior balloon-based and space missions learned a great deal by studying these patterns, including NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), which earned the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Planck is the successor to these satellites, covering a wider range of light frequencies with improved sensitivity and resolution. Its measurements reveal light patterns as small as one-twelfth of a degree on the sky.

“Planck is like the Ferrari of cosmic microwave background missions,” said Krzysztof Gorski, a U.S Planck scientist at JPL. “You fine tune the technology to get more precise results. For a car, that can mean an increase in speed and winning races. For Planck, it results in giving astronomers a treasure trove of spectacular data, and bringing forth a deeper understanding of the properties and history of the universe.”

The newly estimated expansion rate of the universe, known as Hubble’s constant, is 67.15 plus or minus 1.2 kilometers/second/megaparsec. A megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years. This is less than prior estimates derived from space telescopes, such as NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble, using a different technique. The new estimate of dark matter content in the universe is 26.8 percent, up from 24 percent, while dark energy falls to 68.3 percent, down from 71.4 percent. Normal matter now is 4.9 percent, up from 4.6 percent.

Complete results from Planck, which still is scanning the skies, will be released in 2014.

NASA’s Planck Project Office is based at JPL.

More information is online at, and .

Source: Whitney Clavin, Jet Propulsion Laboratory; NASA

Images: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

3 Comments on "Detailed Map Reveals New Information about the Age, Contents and Origins of the Universe"

  1. Kevin Porter | March 21, 2013 at 9:24 am | Reply

    When it is stated that the universe 13.8 billion years old presumably that is in relation to the flow of time as we perceive it on Earth. It defines a time in the past that we can understand (although only sort of comprehend considering how large it is!).

    Are there any implications for time, such as those enforced by special relativity, when we extrapolate back to conditions in the early universe? Is the flow or nature of time compromised or altered in the early universe? Does the expanding universe “evoke” (or perhaps provoke!) time in that process?

  2. Madanagopal.V.C | March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply

    The age of the universe as decided by NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble mission comes out to be 13.8 billion years which is older by 100 billion years (13.7 to 13.8 billion years old).The Dark Matter content refines to be 26.8 fro 24.0 percent and the Dark Energy is adjusted to be 68.3 from 71.4 percent. Real Matter, which are our galaxies and stars are slightly increased from 4.6 to 4.9 percent. These refinement apart there is not much of deviation from original supposed Big Bang Theory when our universe expanded 100 trillion trillion times in a wink’s time after Big Bang incident. The light energy which appeared after 370000 years (the time for the light to be born) which was from electrons and atoms that were created later. This primordial light only transformed itself to be the cosmic microwave backround (CMB)after undergoing Doppler shift. The initial 370000 years took time to create quarks up, down and probably all the higher generations of matter like Top, Bottom, Strange, Charm and probably still higher generations which we cannot get in our earthly particle accelerators, since we cannot create such fantastic energy. This initial time before the birth of light was used up to create enormous quantity of Dark Matter and Dark Energy (about 95.1percent), which are exotic particles or bosons where light has no business. This is the time when Higgs Bosons were formed under great multiple hierarchy which ultimately when electrons were formed combined and formed real matter. This is the time when gluons (also ghosts) were formed which locked the quarks to form initial protons and then Hydrogen the primordial gas. This is the time when gravitons were formed which interacted with matter and also non-matter to form gravitational force. Electro-magnetic forces were last to be formed to create a visible universe. The anisotropic distribution of matter in the sky starts after matter was created. But then even Dark Matter and Dark energy distribution is also anisotropic. Thus there is not much deviation from our original understanding. Even the expansion of the Universe at the rate of 67.15 plus or minus 1.2 kilometers per second per megaparsec is also just a refined calculation . Our theory remains the same and is vindicated by experiments. Thanks a lot. Thank You.

  3. Mohammad Shafiq Khan | May 26, 2013 at 4:47 am | Reply


    Open Challenge
    The article ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’ by Albert Einstein is based on trickeries is proved beyond any doubt whatsoever in the articles (1). Experimental & Theoretical Evidences of Fallacy of Space-time Concept and Actual State of Existence of the Physical Universe published in the peer-reviewed journal namely Indian Journal of Science & Technology (March 2012 issue) available on (2) On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies By Albert Einstein is Based on Trickeries (Open letter to Professors, Teachers, Researchers and Students of Physics) published in peer-reviewed journal Elixir Online Journal (February 2012 issue) available on The Voigt transformation was simply a mathematical possibility which was changed by Lorentz by introducing the Lorentz factor but the Lorentz factor is simply a manipulation. Thus nature and forces in nature were trivialized and made subservient to mathematics in the theories of relativity, Big Bang Theory, Space-time concept and in all physical sciences which are directly or indirectly based on the ‘On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies’. It is unfortunate for humanity that exposing these trickeries took more than one hundred years.
    I openly challenge all the professors, researchers & teachers of physics/philosophy of physics to come forward & show me where I am wrong or else they have to accept that they are teaching incorrect physics based on trickeries.

    My challenge may not be treated as a publicity stunt, but I sincerely wish that truth should prevail on this planet and am expecting identical response from all truth loving people/intellectuals. I do understand that it is hard for mainstream physicists to reconcile with the alternative philosophy; though actual and factual; as almost all the living physicists and researchers are borne, brought up and taught physics which is fundamentally incorrect. Their livelihood is based on the physics which has been adopted as the result of fraud, but these material interests should never be a stumbling block to acknowledge the reality, which to my understanding is the essence of scientific thinking and honest living for the betterment of entire human society.

    I have not an iota of doubt that sooner or later the truth will prevail, but it would be in the interest of humanity that truth is accepted now so that humanity comes out of clutches of materialism which in itself is naked atheism.

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