Big Bang's afterglow reveals older universe, more matter

2013-03-22T00:00:00Z Big Bang's afterglow reveals older universe, more matterAmina Khan Los Angeles Times Arizona Daily Star
March 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The universe has hidden its age well. The European Space Agency's Planck space telescope has scanned the skies for the Big Bang's fingerprint and discovered that the universe is about 100 million years older than thought, and that there's more normal and dark matter filling the cosmos.

The findings announced Thursday by the agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration peg the universe's age at 13.8 billion years. They accompanied a multicolored map showing the tiny temperature fluctuations that reveal the seeds of the universe's future structure.

The Planck mission took a snapshot of the early universe's afterglow to unprecedented clarity.

The map represents the first 15.5 months of observation by the Planck telescope, which looked at the universe's cosmic microwave background - that extremely cold, barely noticeable glow left after the Big Bang when the universe was just a cosmic baby - about 380,000 years old.

Although it's cold now, this afterglow is an imprint from when the young universe's soup of particles heated to about 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit, stretched across the skies during a period of expansion known as inflation, and cooled over the intervening billions of years to just a few degrees above absolute zero.

Since the light's path is affected by all the mass around it, the new radiation map also allows scientists to create a map of all the mass in the universe, scientists said.

The researchers found that they could raise the estimates of normal matter in the universe to 4.9 percent, up from 4.6 percent. The dark matter share rose to 26.8 percent from 24 percent.

The overwhelming majority, dark energy - that strange force that's causing the universe to expand faster and faster - shrunk accordingly, from 71.4 percent to 68.3 percent.

And with less dark energy to push things apart, the universe isn't expanding quite as quickly as thought, the scientists found.

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