A new, “Baby Picture” of the universe has been released by astronomers and the verdict is, it’s remarkable.
The all-sky image is the product of nine year’s data collected by a spacecraft called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).
Launched in 2001 to a position one million miles away from the Earth (and Sun) — in effect — WMAP operated as giant, radiation scanner of the universe.
Charles Bennett, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University who led the team, told Space.com.
“We are just a speck in the vastness of the universe, so it is amazing that we have the ability to answer fundamental questions about the vast universe around us, but the WMAP team has done just that. It was possible because we can detect and study the ancient light, the oldest light in the universe.”
That “ancient light” has now been captured as an image. A clear map of the temperature of the radiation left over after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 375,000 years old.
The image shows a temperature range of plus-or-minus 200 microKelvin, revealing fluctuations in the so-called cosmic microwave background radiation as color differences.
Patterns seen in the image allow astronomers to predict what could have happened earlier in the universe and what has happened in the billions of years since the universe’s birth, Space.com notes.
For that reason, WMAP has been vital in expanding present cosmological theories about the nature and origin of the universe.
Incredibly, the data sent back to astronomers enabled them to pinpoint a much more accurate time stamp for the age of the universe — 13.7 billion years.
In addition, the Huffington Post reports that scientists have confirmed that approximately 95 percent of the universe is dark matter and dark energy.
WMAP data also gave scientists the information necessary to plot the curvature of space to within 0.4 percent of “flat,” helping them to nail down the time when the universe began its journey from the cosmic dark ages — about 400 million years after the Big Bang.
Retired for two years, WMAP’s scientific team are now sharing their findings. Bennett summed up the project’s mission to Space.com:
“The universe encoded its autobiography in the microwave patterns we observe across the whole sky. When we decoded it, the universe revealed its history and contents. It is stunning to see everything fall into place.”