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'Virtual Baby Picture' of Universe Adds Birthdays, New Mysteries

Image: 'Virtual Baby Picture' of Universe Adds Birthdays, New Mysteries European Space Agency (ESA) photo shows the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background acquired by ESA's Planck space telescope.

By Alexandra Ward   |   Friday, 22 Mar 2013 11:29 AM

Images from the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope have revealed a virtual baby picture of the universe, providing scientists with many important facts about how the cosmos evolved.

The pictures, released Thursday, illustrate cosmic microwave background radiation, or the light left over from the Big Bang, in more detail than ever before. Think of it as the Big Bang's "afterglow" or "heat map."

"It's a big deal," Charles Lawrence, Planck project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a news briefing. "We can tie together a whole range of phenomena that couldn't be tied together so well before, and the sum total of that, the impact, is felt in many, many ways."

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After analyzing new data, scientists now believe the universe is about 80 to 100 million years older than they originally thought. There is more dark matter — the mysterious glue that holds the universe together — than previously thought, and also less dark energy — the mysterious force that theoretically causes the universe to expand.

The images do stir up some new questions though.

"The extraordinary quality of Planck's portrait of the infant universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete," Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, said in a statement.

The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example, and there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere, according to the New York Times.

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