Posts Tagged ‘big bang’

Planck Sees the Universe as Never Before

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Artist's Conception of the Planck Telescope. Photo: ESA

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.

Happy Retirement to the Best Satellite Mission Ever!

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

If you have even a passing interest in science or astronomy, you have probably seen this image:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Point a radio telescope in any direction, and you will detect microwaves which are not associated with any celestial object. They are just there.

First discovered in 1964, it was a huge mystery what this radiation was. In fact, the astronomers who first detected the background radiation cleaned the bird poop out of the telescope before they investigated further, in case it was messing up their instruments, because they had no idea what else it could be (true story!).

But fortunately, it was not fecal matter, but an amazing discovery!

This is the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). It is radiation leftover from the creation of the universe, roughly 13.75 billion years ago.

When the universe was first created, it was a hot, opaque cloud. But as the universe cooled, it became transparent, and photons were able to travel freely without being absorbed. These photons have been travelling lo these last 13-14 billion years, and are what comprises the CMBR. Only in the last few decades, however, have we truly been able to study it in detail.

Image Credit: WMAP Science Team

So in 2001, a satellite called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was launched to study the CMBR. Their results are the picture you see above. See how it’s not quite uniform? There are flecks of yellow and red and green. That is because matter did not spread out uniformly after it was created. It clumped together a bit here and there, and that’s how eventually atoms were able to eventually clump together and form gas clouds, stars, and planets.

Portrait of WMAP satellite. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

And now, after 9 years of study, WMAP is shutting down. It is now sitting in a nice retirement village in orbit around the sun.

For a satellite only designed to last 2 years, WMAP went well beyond its original lifespan, and is a big success for NASA. It has increased our understanding of the universe and how we were created more, I would argue, than any other mission NASA has launched before it.

Carl Sagan on Family Guy

July 14, 2010 2 comments

So, the last few days I’ve noticed a lot of people posting this Carl Sagan video:

I love Carl Sagan, so I thought I would share one of my favourite moments involving the famous scientist. His appearance on Family Guy: