Finally, an Explanation for the Cold Spot in the Cosmic Microwave Background

Map of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) sky produced by the Planck satellite. The Cold Spot is shown in the inset, with coordinates and the temperature difference in the scale at the bottom. Credit: ESA/Durham University.

According to our current Cosmological models, the Universe began with a Big Bang roughly 13.8 billion years ago. During the earliest periods, the Universe was permeated by an opaque cloud of hot plasma, preventing atoms from forming. About 380,000 years later, the Universe began to cool and much of the energy generated by the Big Bang converted into light. This afterglow is now visible to astronomers as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), first observed during the 1960s.

One peculiar characteristic about the CMB that attracted a lot of attention was the tiny fluctuations in temperature, which could provide information about the early Universe. In particular, there is a rather large spot in the CMB that is cooler than the surrounding afterglow, known as the CMB Cold Spot. After decades of studying the CMB’s temperature fluctuations, a team of scientists recently confirmed the existence of the largest cold spots in the CMB afterglow – the Eridanus Supervoid – might be the explanation for the CMB Cold Spot that astronomers have been looking for!

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New Observations Agree That the Universe is 13.77 Billion Years old

Cosmic microwave background seen by Planck. Credit: ESA

The oldest light in the universe is that of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This light was formed when the dense matter at the beginning of the universe finally cooled enough to become transparent. It has traveled for billions of years to reach us, stretched from a bright orange glow to cool, invisible microwaves. Naturally, it is an excellent source for understanding the history and expansion of the cosmos.

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An Astronomer Checked to see if There’s a Secret Message in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

The Cold Spot area resides in the constellation Eridanus in the southern galactic hemisphere. The insets show the environment of this anomalous patch of the sky as mapped by Szapudi’s team using PS1 and WISE data and as observed in the cosmic microwave background temperature data taken by the Planck satellite. The angular diameter of the vast supervoid aligned with the Cold Spot, which exceeds 30 degrees, is marked by the white circles. Credit: ESA Planck Collaboration/ Gerg? Kránicz

In the New Testament, the book of John opens with In the beginning was the Word. Whether a poetic musing of philosophy or a declaration of faith, it encapsulates an idea that has been around a long time. If the cosmos was made, either by advanced aliens or a divine creator, might this architect have buried a message within the universe? Some absolute proof of intentional design.

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The Average Temperature of the Universe has Been Getting Hotter and Hotter

An illustration of cosmic expansion. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

For almost a century, astronomers have understood that the Universe is in a state of expansion. Since the 1990s, they have come to understand that as of four billion years ago, the rate of expansion has been speeding up. As this progresses, and the galaxy clusters and filaments of the Universe move farther apart, scientists theorize that the mean temperature of the Universe will gradually decline.

But according to new research led by the Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP) at Ohio State University, it appears that the Universe is actually getting hotter as time goes on. After probing the thermal history of the Universe over the last 10 billion years, the team concluded that the mean temperature of cosmic gas has increased more than 10 times and reached about 2.2 million K (~2.2 °C; 4 million °F) today.

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New observations from the Planck mission don’t resolve anomalies like the CMB “cold spot”

Cosmic Microwave Background. Copyright: ESA/Planck Collaboration

Back in 2013, the European Space Agency released its first analysis of the data gathered by the Planck observatory. Between 2009 and 2013, this spacecraft observed the remnants of the radiation that filled the Universe immediately after the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) – with the highest sensitivity of any mission to date and in multiple wavelengths.

In addition to largely confirming current theories on how the Universe evolved, Planck’s first map also revealed a number of temperature anomalies – like the CMB “Cold Spot” – that are difficult to explain. Unfortunately, with the latest analysis of the mission data, the Planck Collaboration team has found no new evidence for these anomalies, which means that astrophysicists are still short of an explanation.

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What is the Cosmic Microwave Background?

This single all-sky image, captured by the Planck telescope, simultaneously captured two snapshots that straddle virtually the entire 13.7 billion year history of the universe. Credit: ESA

For thousands of years, human being have been contemplating the Universe and seeking to determine its true extent. And whereas ancient philosophers believed that the world consisted of a disk, a ziggurat or a cube surrounded by celestial oceans or some kind of ether, the development of modern astronomy opened their eyes to new frontiers. By the 20th century, scientists began to understand just how vast (and maybe even unending) the Universe really is.

And in the course of looking farther out into space, and deeper back in time, cosmologists have discovered some truly amazing things. For example, during the 1960s, astronomers became aware of microwave background radiation that was detectable in all directions. Known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the existence of this radiation has helped to inform our understanding of how the Universe began. Continue reading “What is the Cosmic Microwave Background?”