Planck Sees the Universe as Never Before
The first results from the European Space Agency’s Planck survery have been released today, and what a pretty picture these results make.
The Planck space telescope was launched in 2009 and currently resides in a Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun, roughly 1.5 million km away.
(A Lagrangian point is a point in space where the gravity from two bodies cancel each other out).
Planck’s mission is to study the Cosmic Microwave Background, the “echoes” from the Big Bang that appear everywhere in the sky.Plank was designed to be successor to the recently retired WMAP satellite, which measured the CMB with more accuracy than any instrument before it.
The image above the top of the page was released back in July 2010, but the first scientific results have just been made public. They include 25 papers submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The results include some pretty cool stuff.
Planck has found evidence for an otherwise invisible population of galaxies shrouded in dust billions of years in the past, which formed stars at rates some 10–1000 times higher than we see in our own Galaxy today. Measurements of this population had never been made at these wavelengths before. “This is a first step, we are just learning how to work with these data and extract the most information,” says Jean-Loup Puget, CNRS-Université Paris Sud, Orsay, France.
These studies allow us to gain a better picture of how the Universe formed in its very early stages, about 380 000 years after the Big Bang.When the CMB was first discovered, it was thought to be completely isotropic over the entire sky. This made no sense, however, since the Universe is made up of clumps of matter like stars and galaxies. There had to be some structure in the CMB, and that is why these tools like WMAP and Planck have been developed; to see that structure in the CMB.While these results are exciting, the best is yet to come,
Today’s results are the tip of the scientific iceberg. Planck is exceeding expectations thanks to the dedication of everyone involved in the project,” says David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.