Planck shows almost perfect cosmos – plus axis of evil
The universe is almost perfect, 80 million years older than we thought, and maybe a little bit evil.
That’s the conclusion of a four-year mission conducted by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft, which has created the highest-resolution map yet of the entire cosmic microwave background (CMB) – the first light to travel across a newly transparent universe about 380,000 years after the big bang.
"It might look like a dirty rugby ball or a piece of modern art, but I can assure you cosmologists would have hacked our computers or given up their children to get a copy of this map," said George Efstathiou at a press conference at ESA headquarters in Paris, France, this morning.
Planck’s map greatly improves cosmologists’ understanding of the universe, but it does not solve lingering mysteries over unusual patterns in the CMB. These include a “preferred” direction in the way the temperature of the light varies, dubbed the cosmic “axis of evil”, as well as an inexplicably cold spot that could be evidence for universes beyond our own.
Planck has been looking for variations in the temperature of the CMB, which emerged at around 3000 kelvin, but by now has cooled to just a few degrees above absolute zero, on average.