Niagara Gazette

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March 21, 2013

A clearer picture of the Big Bang

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — Officials at NASA, which also was part of the experiment, said the Planck probe has provided a deeper understanding of the intricate history of the universe and its complex composition.

Krzysztof Gorski, a Planck scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement that the new results "are giving astronomers a treasure trove of spectacular data, and bringing forth a deeper understanding of the properties and history of the universe."

The Planck space telescope, launched in 2009, has spent 15 1/2 months mapping the sky, examining so-called "light" fossils and sound echoes from the Big Bang by looking at background radiation in the cosmos. The spacecraft is expected to keep transmitting data until late 2013, when it runs out of cooling fluid.

Scientists not involved in the project said the results were comparable on a universal scale to the announcement earlier this month by a different European physics group on a subatomic level — with the finding of the Higgs boson particle that explains mass in the universe.

"What a wonderful triumph of the mathematical approach to describing nature," said Brian Greene, a Columbia University physicist who was not part of the new Planck research. "It's an amazing story of discovery."

"The precision is breathtaking," Greene said in an email Thursday after the announcement. "The satellite is measuring temperature variations in space — which arose from processes that took place almost 14 billion years ago — to one part in a million. Amazing."

Efstathiou marveled at how the Planck data was such "an extremely good match" to the theory of rapid inflation in the split-second after the Big Bang.

Inflation tries to explain some nagging problems left over from the Big Bang, which formed the universe in a sudden burst. Other space probes have shown that the geometry of the universe is predominantly flat, but the Big Bang said it should curve with time. Another problem was that opposite ends of space are so far apart that they could never have been near each other under the normal laws of physics, but early cosmic microwave background measurements show they must have been in contact.

So a few physicists more than 30 years ago came up with a theory to explain this: Inflation. That says the universe swelled tremendously, going "from subatomic size to something as large as the observable universe in a fraction of a second," Greene said.

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