The European Space Agency published on Thursday the first image of the oldest light in our Universe taken by its $900 million Planck space telescope.
While it might look like an underwhelming picture of a speckled Easter egg, scientists say the above image is a near-perfect view of the earliest days of the universe: “The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant Universe allows us to peel back its lawyers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete,” said the ESA’s director-general, Jean-Jacques Dordain.
(MORE: A Super-Telescope Goes to Work)
Planck captured the tiny variations in the temperature and polarization of the universe’s cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation — light which was finally “set free” after the Big Bang when the universe had cooled enough for it to spread. This radiation is important because it reveals information about the physical conditions of the universe at a very early stage, some 380,000 years after the Big Bang, and could provide clues about the Big Bang itself.
The red and blue speckles represent areas where the CMB goes above or below the average temperature of -454 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler regions are the denser areas that would later go on to form stars and clusters of galaxies.
The Planck satellite was designed to map the fluctuations of the CMB across the whole sky with in extremely high resolution. According to the ESA, because the precision of the map is so great, it has revealed “peculiar unexplained features that may well require new physics to be understood.”
According to astronomers, one of the revelations from the data produced by Planck is that the universe is tens of millions years older than previously expected, putting it at 13.82 billion years old.
The Planck mission itself is still in its early days. Astronomers expect to release the full results of the images taken by the satellite next year; only half its data has been analyzed so far.