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March 31 2013

Four Surprises in Planck’s New Map of the Cosmos


By now you’ve probably heard about the amazing new cosmic snapshot from the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. It is one of those scientific achievements so mind-boggling that you have to spend a bit of time with it to truly appreciate what you are seeing. This is relic radiation from when the universe was 370,000 years old, still all aglow from the Big Bang. The radiation has been traveling 13.8 billion years since then, across ever-expanding stretches of space, before landing in Planck’s detectors. Then it took a tremendous feat of imagination and insight to translate that noisy signal into a comprehensible map of what the universe looked like in its infancy.

So let’s step back for a moment, look at how this image came to be, and consider some of the more surprising details hidden within it.

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