Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 21, 2013

A clearer picture of the Big Bang

Niagara Gazette — PARIS — New results from looking at the split-second after the Big Bang indicate the universe is 80 million years older than previously thought and provide ancient evidence supporting core concepts about the cosmos — how it began, what it's made of and where it's going.

The findings released Thursday bolster a key theory called inflation, which says the universe burst from subatomic size to its now-observable expanse in a fraction of a second. The new observations from the European Space Agency's $900 million Planck space probe appear to reinforce some predictions made decades ago solely on the basis of mathematical concepts.

"We've uncovered a fundamental truth of the universe," said George Efstathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge who announced the Planck satellite mapping result in Paris. "There's less stuff that we don't understand by a tiny amount."

"It's a big pat on the back for our understanding of the universe," California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll, who was not involved in the project, told The Associated Press. "In terms of describing the current universe, I think we have a right to say we're on the right track."

The Big Bang — the most comprehensive theory of the universe's beginning — says the visible portion of the universe was smaller than an atom when, in a split second, it exploded, cooled and expanded faster than the speed of light.

The Planck space probe looked back at the afterglow of the Big Bang, and those results have now added about 80 million years to the universe's age, putting it at 13.81 billion years old.

The probe, named for the German physicist Max Planck, the originator of quantum physics, also found that the cosmos is expanding a bit slower than originally thought, has a little less of that mysterious dark energy than astronomers had figured and has a tad more normal matter. But scientists say those are small changes in calculations about the universe, whose numbers are so massive.

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