Ancient afterglow of Big Bang shows universe older than previously thought
PARIS – New results from a look into the split second after the Big Bang indicate the universe is 80 million years older than previously thought but the core concepts of the cosmos — how it began, what it’s made of and where it’s going — seem to be on the right track.
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 Big Bang is the most comprehensive theory of the universe’s beginning. It says the visible portion of the universe was smaller than an atom when, in a split second, it exploded, cooled and expanded rapidly, much faster than the speed of light.
The European Space Agency’s 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 13.81 billion years old.
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The probe also found that the cosmos is expanding a bit slower than originally thought, has a little less of that mysterious dark energy than astronomers figured and a tad more normal matter. But scientists say those are small changes in calculations about the cosmos, nothing dramatic when dealing with numbers so massive.
“We’ve uncovered a fundamental truth of the universe,” said George Esfthathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge who announced the Planck satellite mapping. “There’s less stuff that we don’t understand by a tiny amount.”
The $900 million Planck space telescope was launched in 2009. It has spent 15 1/2 months mapping the sky, examining light fossils and sound echoes from the Big Bang by looking at the background radiation in the cosmos. The device is expected to keep transmitting data until late 2013, when it runs out of cooling fluid.
Officials at NASA, which also was part of the experiment, said this provided a deeper understanding of the intricate history of the universe and its complex composition.
Outside scientists said the result confirms on a universal scale what the announcement earlier this month by a different European group confirmed on a subatomic scale — that they had found the Higgs boson particle which 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 research. “It’s an amazing story of discovery.”