Planck’s Cosmic Map Reveals Universe Older, Expanding More Slowly

Like archaeologists sifting through the dust of ancient civilizations, scientists with the ESA Planck mission today showed a map of the oldest light in the Universe. The first cosmology results of the mission suggest our Universe is slightly older and expanding more slowly than previously thought.

Planck’s new estimate for the age of the Universe is 13.82 billion years.

The map also appears to show more matter and dark matter and less dark energy, a hypothetical force that is causing an expansion of the Universe.

“We are measuring the oldest light in the Universe, the cosmic microwave background,” says Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics with NASA. “It is the most sensitive and detailed map ever. It’s like going from standard television to a new high definition screen. The new details have become crystal clear.”

Overall, the cosmic background radiation, the afterglow of the Universe’s birth, is smooth and uniform. The map, however, provides a glimpse of the tiny temperature fluctuations that were imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 370,000 years old. Scientists believe the map reveals a fossil, an imprint, of the state of the Universe just 10 nano-nano-nano-nano seconds after the Big Bang; just a tiny fraction of the time it took to read that sentence. The splotches in the Planck map represent the seeds from which the stars and galaxies formed.

The colors in the map represent different temperatures; red for warmer, blue for cooler. The temperature differences being only 1/100 millionth of a degree. “The contrast on the map has been turned way up,” says Charles Lawrence, the US project scientist for Planck at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Planck, launched in 2009 from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana, is a European Space Agency mission with significant contribution from NASA. The two-ton spacecraft gathers the ancient glow of the Universe’s beginning from a vantage more than 1 million miles from Earth.

This graphic shows the evolution of satellites designed to measure the light left over from the Big Bang that created our Universe about 13.8 billion years ago. Called the cosmic background radiation, the light reveals information about the early Universe. The three panels show the same 10-square-degree patch of sky as seen by NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE, NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, and Planck. Planck has a resolution about 2.5 times greater than WMAP. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA

This is not the first map produced by Planck. In 2010, Planck produced an all-sky radiation map. Scientists, using supercomputers, have removed not only the bright emissions from foreground sources, like the Milky Way, but also stray light from the satellite itself.

As the light travels, matter scattered throughout the Universe with its associated gravity subtly bends and absorbs the light, “making it wiggle to and fro,” said Martin White, a Planck project scientist with the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“The Planck map shows the impact of all matter back to the edge of the Universe,” says White. “It’s not just a pretty picture. Our theories on how matter forms and how the Universe formed match spectacularly to this new data.”

“This is a treasury of scientific data,” said Krzysztof Gorski, a member of the Planck team with JPL. “We are very excited with the results. We find an early Universe that is considerably less rigged and more random than other, more complex models. We think they’ll be facing a dead-end.”

An artists animation depicting the “life” of a photon, or a particle light, as it travels across space and time from the beginning of the Universe to the detectors of the Planck telescope. Credit: NASA

Planck scientists believe the new data should help scientists refine many of the theories proposed by cosmologists that the Universe underwent a sudden and rapid inflation.

25 Replies to “Planck’s Cosmic Map Reveals Universe Older, Expanding More Slowly”

  1. Back in the day… I worked at a large aerospace firm helping design ASARS radar systems. We used several frequencies of microwave energy. I helped develop solid state beam splitters and associated copper circuit paths. We used magnets strategically placed in the circuitry to bounce microwaves in 90* angles or whatever angle(s) were required – magnet shape and strength the determining factor. When you do that, the waveform is modified. Waveguides were/are rectangular shaped tubes. There are two ways to make a 90* turn, for instance. One, along the long axis modified the sin wave of the energy one way, and when bent along the short axis the sin wave moved 90* in another direction. The trick was to get all the numerous paths from the generator synced at the output source or antenna.

    Here’s the rub… magnetic field lines alter the path and modulation of microwaves. So, with the multitude of magnetic field lines present in our universe, such as those generated by galaxies, quasars, pulsars, magnetars etc., over vast distances, wouldn’t you need to know where those sources were and at what amplitude to unscramble the signal(s)? It seems that back scatter and associated magnetic field modulation would scramble the CMB energy into an indecipherable morass of signals? I’ve always wondered after that… Sure, you can filter out selected frequencies or modulations, but beyond a certain red shift there are so many (At present) unknown and unknowable magnetic sources out thar, unscrambling them seems impossible? Wouldn’t magnetic field lines of distant stars generate the spaghetti like scramble we see in the CMB images?

    1. If you read the WMAP and Planck papers, you will see how they handled extraneous sources of microwaves et cetera.

      In Planck’s case, they identified 7 sources which took care of most everything (they discuss minute unknowns). In both cases they get intelligible signals that clearly tests the standard cosmology models (predict the observations), in Planck’s case to ridiculous 7 “acoustic” peaks in the signal. In other words, it works.

      As for how it works, if I remember correctly, the physics is such that magnetic fields doesn’t change the energy of photons (or charged particles) in the reference frame. It is only in the lab frame (observer frame) that it appears thus. Meaning the relative signal is still there, and can be teased out.

  2. Finally! The one year delay seems to be part the instrument performing well (meaning they now have 5 sky pass instead of the nominal 2), part problem to extract polarization (still working on it), part the large scale anomalies.

    That said, the results are fantastic. Not only do they see inflation directly and test it unambiguously (scalar index < 1) at 6 sigma, they see dark energy directly and test it unambiguously _from the CMB alone_ at 10 sigma. And the observation of, and fit to, 7 acoustic peaks is ridiculously good.

    This is far better than WMAP of course, which barely beat Planck on resolving inflation within the constraints. (Scalar index < 1 up from below 3 sigma to just above 5 sigma in the last 9 year data release 2012.)

    In this context I must note that I'm not sure why polarization data should be considered "the true test of inflation". I think it may show you niceties like whether spacetime can fluctuate (tensor modes) or if all structure formation comes from primordial fluctuations in the inflaton field (scalar modes).

    But as I interpret the Planck papers the latter case is the primary standard cosmology model: "In the base ΛCDM model, the ?uctuations are assumed to be purely scalar modes." [ , p39.] (If tensor modes exist, they can be nice in that the give you inflation expansion rate and energy scale: .) And the smoothness of spacetime beyond Planck scales, no spacetime fluctuations, is tentatively consistent with timing measurements of cosmological supernova photons. (And, I hear, their polarization if supersymmetry is what gives us dark matter.)

    The precision of cosmology age is also ridiculous, 0.3 % or 40 million years, rivaling our dating of the Earth at some 1 % or 50 million years. [ ] Nitpick on the article here is that we should compare the consensus age of Planck and other instruments of 13.80 Ga with the similar pre-Planck consensus age of 13.77 Ga. [ , p36.]

  3. On to the new:

    – I expect the dipole asymmetry (shown here for example: ) will grab people, despite the Planck team being able to test the isotropic standard cosmology better than ever before on large spatial scales.

    What is notable is that the high-l (small spatial scale) data test as constant such parameters as spatial flatness to larger scales than the observable universe (give or take cosmic variance). So maybe the dipole is an observation of some nearby anomaly that inflation expansion didn’t quite erase. Meaning it could be compatible but hard to nail down.

    – The now ascertained cold spot, which like the dipole was present in the WMAP data but could be attributed to instrument uncertainties, will likely make many (especially crackpots) claim premature evidence of multiverses in the form of vacuum bubble collisions. Beyond that it will be interesting when the teams that have looked at this on the uncertain WMAP data looks again:

    “Cutting to the chase, we were first able to use simulated CMB data containing bubble collisions to rule out a range of parameter space as inconsistent with WMAP data. As it turned out, the existence of a temperature discontinuity at the boundary of the disc greatly increases our ability to make a detection. We did not find any circular temperature discontinuities in the WMAP data.

    While we didn’t make any clear detections of bubble collisions, we did find four features in the WMAP data that are better explained by the bubble collision hypothesis than by the standard hypothesis of fluctuations in a nearly Gaussian field. We assess which of the two models better explain the data by evaluating the Bayesian evidence for each. The evidence correctly accounts for the fact that a more complex model (the bubble collisions, in this case) will generally fit the data better simply because it has more free parameters. This is the self-consistent statistical equivalent of applying Ockham’s Razor. In addition, using information from multiple frequencies measured by the WMAP satellite and a simulation of the WMAP experiment, we didn’t find any evidence that these features can be attributed to astrophysical foregrounds or experimental systematics.

    One of the features we identified is the famous Cold Spot, which has been claimed as evidence for a number of theories including textures, voids, primordial inhomogeneities, and various other candidates. A nice aspect of our approach is that it can be used to compare these hypotheses, without making arbitrary choices about which features in the CMB need explaining (focusing on the Cold Spot is an a posteriori choice). We haven’t done this yet, but plan to soon.

    While identifying the four features consistent with being bubble collisions was an exciting result, these features are on the edge of our sensitivity thresholds, and so should be considered only as a hint that there might be bubble collisions to find in future data. The good news is that we can do much more with data from the Planck satellite, which has better resolution and lower noise than the WMAP experiment. There is also much better polarization information, which provides a complementary signal of bubble collisions (found by Czech et. al. – arXiv:1006.0832). We’ll be gearing up to analyze this data, and hopefully there will be more to the story then.”

    [ ]

    – The work to constrain inflation physics which started with WMAP is going on strong with Planck. Already the simplest models are excluded at 2 sigma, but slow roll single field is likeliest and so are _concave_ (no or low tensor mode) hill like field potentials. [ ; fig 1, p 10] Phunny physics.

    And as always, supersymmetric models are marginal. 😐

    1. The high-l data has yet to be analyzed fully. So far there is no report of any kurtosis that deviates from Gaussian variance or cosmic variance. The polarization data may provide information concerning the role of gravitation in the early universe. This may provide information concerning the decoupling of quantum gravity from gauge fields and the onset of classical spacetime. Further data concerning bubble interactions in Verlinde’s eternal inflation model is likely to at best be icing on the cake.


  4. More (baryonic) matter and less dark matter than previously thought? But a regular, sometimes condescending, but prolific commenter on this site asserted that this wasn’t possible… to the point that people got torn to shreds for suggesting that new observations and data might shed new light on things.

    A great day for science… LCrowell, not so much.

    1. I’m sure I too will come over as condescending when I note nothing has changed as regards matterenergy content.

      The Planck team takes great pains to show how for example the more precise Hubble constant lies perfectly well within the 3 sigma range of the WMAP and BAO (baryonic acoustic oscillation) results. While it lies outside SNe (supernova) results, straining the observation set but not the cosmology and suggesting some residual observation problems with the SNe methods.

      The increased matter content is 17 % increase (31.7 % vs 27.2 %), 10 % more baryonic matter (4.9 % vs 4.5 %) and 18 % more dark matter (26.8 % vs 22.7 %). [ ]

      The new physics lies mostly elsewhere, and I don’t think the article reflected that very well.

    2. I am not disturbed by these results. For one thing this indicates only a somewhat smaller role for dark energy and a greater role for matter, both dark and baryonic. You are wrong in saying this diminishes the role of dark matter in favor of baryonic matter. At large these result in no way overturn previous CMB data, such as from WMAP, on the large scale structure of the universe.


  5. “The map also appears to show more matter and dark matter and less dark energy, a hypothetical force that is causing an expansion of the Universe.” Can I just say thanks for using the correct word, hypothetical, and not theoretical. Too often even people who should know better say something is theoretical adding more confusion to the unscientific public. For example, string theory instead of string hypothesis.

    1. Actually theoretical is a better term, since it is a result of a well tested theory, and it can now be observed already in the CMB exclusively as the Planck papers notes. Hypotheses can be isolated (ad hoc) predictions, theories are larger prediction & observation sets.

      I’m not sure, but I think your notions of hypothetical vs theoretical revolves around the common usage. (I.e. hypothetical being unsupported and so weaker than somewhat supported and sensible theory, and both being untested.)

      That a theory like string theory is (mostly) untested in the beginning is not reflecting on its status as a theory based in and testable against observation. It has for example predicted black hole entropy correctly, so it is not wrong. But no one knows if it is more correct than semiclassical particle theory.

  6. I’m totaly out of this, All i see are blue, yellow, orange and red colors which seemingly form about 3 or 4 ring shapes which are half fading into the background.

    Any care to explain how I am to look at this for a better appreciation besides some pointilistic art of the sky?

    1. It’s a sort of temperature map made from the theorised afterglow of the Big Bang.

      Scientists believe that the warm and cool spots provide an impression of the distribution of matter in the early universe.

      Whilst the distribution of matter appears random, it is not entirely uniform. This raises interesting questions and scientists around the world will be looking to marry this evidence to other observations to help refine the many theories about the universe’s origins and evolution.

      1. Anybody have any thoughts on whether the CMB would provide any kind of ‘impression’ of the distribution weakly interacting dark matter?

        Would it show up at all in the CMB? If so, how would we distinguish it’s signature as opposed to that of regular baryonic matter?

        Interesting stuff!

      2. ty for your reply. I’m sorry if my question was probably to vague.
        I’ve read the story and understood that part, including the age limitation and dark energy reduction. Planck’s accuracy without a doubt, from my side, has the benifit in this.
        I even understand what is not mentioned, that based on this you can claim the edge of our universe is definitely not visible. Only the CMB from “that age” is visible to us.
        So what were the plans to connect the dots, now that we have the dots? The measurements.

    2. It is the irregularity in the smoothness of the background temperature you see.
      The difference between blue and red is 0.000,000,01 degrees Celsius.

      This irregularity in smoothness can give clues about the origin of the big bang.

  7. Living science! I was just born when Penzias and Wilson cleaned their antenna for pigeon droppings and discovered CMB, But I am a bit puzzled by the here stated accuracy of the measurements “The temperature differences being only 1/100 millionth of a degree”. Really? I thought the differences picked up were rather on the 1/1000 scale. And the picture text on the top “the best map ever of the Universe” should read “of the EARLY Universe” to be more precise. Cheers!

    1. Good catch on the temperature differences! Figures of discrete channels are labeled in 10s of µK in the Planck papers. (See for example fig 28 in .)

      It is hard to say what the filtered results mean as they filter more irrelevant sources and resolve spatially more precisely than WMAP. Better to look at the integrated result, where the 1st acoustic peak of the power spectra of the temperature fluctuations integrate to tens of mK amplitude (i.e. thousands of µK^2 power density) as always. (3d figure of .)

      The CMB map is a map of a feature of the current universe, better resolved and describing more of the current large scale structure than we have access to as of yet by mapping baryonic matter. If you want a description of the early universe you have to use the standard cosmology and the map to project backwards to such times.

      So I think the text is a nice take.

    2. Lets see, …that was in the Sprig of 1964 I believe. Add 10 yrs to your age & you got mine, …a coming of age dinosaur. You’ll get there Jergen. Just don’t think about it buddy…lol…. 🙂

      It is so incredible how 1/100 millionth of a degree can be so substantial. The mind energy that conceived the massiveness & the minuteness of the entire universe & everything in between is extremely unfathomable. The human race is trying, but pride gets in the way of so many people saying there is no creator. Take care ;-).

  8. The video illustrates something that I can’t get a clear answer to. How did the Plank Detector get 13.8 billion light years ahead of the Photons that left the Big Bang. It is made up of material that had to be created through multiple Super Nova’s that had to happen over that time frame to allow it to be waiting to catch the photon.

  9. It didn’t have to get ahead of anything. The beauty of the Big Bang is that at the time it occurred all of space was compressed into a point. It has since inflated and expanded to its current size. The result is that the “place” the Big Bang occurred at is everywhere. You don’t have to be 13.82 billion light years from any particular point in space to see it; all you have to do is look in any direction from *any* point in space at light that has traveled for 13.82 billion years.

  10. How real is this dipole asymmetry, which follows the ecliptic! Do I smell faulty data processing and/or spurious measurement effects? How real is the claimed weakness of the lagerst temperature fluctuations in the Planck data? If you look at the power spectrum, just one point falls clearly below the theoretical predictions. More, the uncertainty at the largest fluctuations is quite large. How long wil this stand?

  11. It says “show more matter and dark matter and less dark energy” not less dark matter.

  12. An open letter to NASA, ESA & CERN.
    The paradigm of physics adopted by NASA, ESA & CERN has been shown to be fundamentally incorrect & baseless through published scientific article “Experimental & Theoretical Evidences of Fallacy of Space-time Concept and Actual State of Existence of the Physical Universe’ (; March2012) available at and consequently openly challenged. Open challenge is available at and also at
    Are not you under moral obligation to accept the challenge before proceeding any further with wastage of public money on the name of research?

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