Look Close! Something’s Strange in the Photo of the Universe

A new cosmic portrait contains a strange anomaly

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Birth of the Universe
AP / ESA / ­Planck

This image released on Thursday March 21, 2013 by the European Space Agency shows the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background acquired by ESA's Planck space telescope.

Astronomers love it when the cosmos throws them a curve ball. It’s all very well to peer deep into the universe and turn up just what you expect to find, but discovering something inexplicable is a whole lot more fun. That’s what happened in the 1970’s when observers found overwhelming evidence for the existence of mysterious (and still unexplained) dark matter, which invisibly holds the universe together; and again in late 1990’s when they learned that the expanding universe is speeding up, not slowing down, thanks in part to dark energy.

This being the case, you might think that the brand-new image of the early universe released by the European Planck satellite mission is something of a disappointment. It pretty much confirmed, with minor adjustments, what astronomers already know — that the cosmos is made mostly of dark matter and dark energy; that nearly 14 billion years have elapsed (13.8, to be exact) since the Big Bang; that during the very tiniest fraction of a second right at the beginning, the universe expanded at an incomprehensibly rapid rate—what physicists call the inflationary period. “It’s a confirmation of the most vanilla model of the universe,” says Rachel Bean, a Cornell astrophysicist.

It is up to a point, anyway. But Planck’s new image, which captures light dating from just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang also poses a mystery that could shake the foundations of cosmology. For decades, scientists have operated on the assumption that the universe should look the same, on average, in all directions—same number of galaxies, sprinkled about the sky in the same general pattern, no matter where you look. It’s a homogeneity which is in keeping with a birth blast that radiated out uniformly and at once.

(MORE: Scientists Find Universe is 80 Million years Older)

The ancient, leftover light from the Big Bang, however, seems lopsided, with a huge swath of sky at a slightly cooler temperature than the rest. It could simply be a fluke, like getting 50 heads in a row in a coin toss. Or it could mean that the age-old assumption about cosmic uniformity is wrong. The chance is maybe one in a few hundred that this asymmetry could happen randomly, says Bean. “So is it really significant or not? It’s tantalizing.”

As with the overall age and composition of the universe, this isn’t an entirely new finding: it was reported a decade ago by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite. There was always a chance, though, that it was some sort of mistake—but not anymore. “Everything that WMAP saw, Planck sees,” says David Spergel, head of Princeton’s astrophysics department and a leader of the WMAP team.

If the cold spot does represent something more than just a random throw of the cosmic dice, it’s not clear what that something might be. “It could suggest that the universe is rotating,” says Spergel. That would account for an uneven temperature distribution, but, Spergel adds, “that’s inconsistent with other data.” It could also suggest that the universe is finite in size, and perhaps not a lot bigger than what we can actually see from Earth, but that appears to be inconsistent as well. At this point, says Spergel,  “I don’t know of any compelling idea that would explain it.” The anomaly isn’t so glaring that it threatens our larger grasp of the universe, he admits, but “we may need some sort of new theoretical understanding.”

(MORE: Red Pill, Blue Pill: Is the Universe Just a Gigantic Computer Simulation?)

Things might get clearer with the development of future telescopes, including the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which could go into operation in 2021, and the space-based Euclid mission, scheduled for launch in 2020. They will do a better job of studying the far smaller hot and cold spots that make up Planck’s pointillist picture of the young universe and are the seeds that eventually grew into the huge clusters of galaxies we see today and the voids that lie between.

If LSST and Euclid see the same sort of pattern Planck sees, that will be further evidence that the cosmos really is lopsided—and that in turn could mean that theorists have a major curve ball to deal with.

MORE: Cosmic Dawn: How the Universe’s Lights Went On

191 comments
JackJoe
JackJoe

for there be TO BE a uniform look to the universe Post a Big Bang...

That would assume that the object which Caused the said Bang was a perfect or close to perfect circlular object....
Which would cause the same amount of particluars to spread out in a close to uniform fashion.

But what if that assumption is just that - an assumption.

as well as an incorrect one.

WHat if the thing that Went-Bang! was shaped more like one of those 'stars' in which we see placed on top of Christmas Trees?  Not at all a uniformed shrere.
Obviously that sort of an object would Not cause evenly dispersed particles but clusters of particles with spaces of close to none of them as they continue to spread further outward.

This dependsa in many other factors of course...

But I think the shape of said central object would be at the center (so to speak). 

No?   Yes?    


rom323
rom323

Try starting with the view that God created the earth 6000 years ago rather than the view that nothing became something and exploded millions of years ago.

MarcShakter
MarcShakter

What are the chances that the cool spot is actually where the universe originated? Like where the bang happened? Maybe humanity's concept of us being the center of the universe is wrong?  

JohnWHargisSr
JohnWHargisSr

Or; God loves messing with scientists, hence the loopholes and never ending theory string of maybes.

violetsilences
violetsilences

Finally scientist are coming back to the disappointment, as a geologist all I could say is a turnover  to hundreds of year ago to the model of plate tectonic, those unknown dark stuff are not “dark matter “ that is the shadow of magma of the universe “gravity” and the basic frame “time” we all are separated by time only….gohttp://www.spacetectonic.com/ 

quatra
quatra

So the universe is 13.8 billion years old just because we can "see" objects at maximum 13.8 billion lightyears away in all directions so the diameter of the visible universe is, at least 27.6 lightyears? The farthest object seen now WAS 13.8 lightyears away from us 13.8 years ago, then? Everything has been at a standstill since or have they gone over our visual horizon 13.8 years ago to disappear forever? All we are talking about is our, very limited, VISUAL bubble. What lies beyond we'll never know. Now, I always try to relativate incomprehensible large or small scales to what I notice in my daily life. Bring water to a boil in a pan. What do you see? At the boiling point very small bubbles appear on the bottom. They detach and rise to the surface, getting larger at an ever increasing speed. Is there black matter and black energy in my pan that make the bubbles expand? Or is it just the decreasing pressure of the surrounding water? Maybe our universe is just a small vapour bubble in somebody's pan with boiling water.

 


mycrazydream
mycrazydream

I've always learned that the result of the big bang was heterogeneity, thus allowing for gravity to sculpt the stars, galaxies, and eventually life. If the universe were completely homogenous, which you are assuming by the complete entropy accorded to such a small space and thus high speeds and unimaginable heat and energy of the singularity which sits just before the big bang (Just what "sits" and "space" mean are of course meaningless in discussions of a singularity) . A reasonable assumption, but observations have shown us for quite some time that the universe is heterogeneous. In fact, The Fine-tuned Universe hypothesis grants that even the smallest change in the following six dimensionless constants would create a universe where life wouldn't arise. Maybe we would have something more akin to the assumption of your homogenous universe. I've left the wiki-links in in case anyone wants to further study the hypothesis.


Read more: http://science.time.com/2013/03/28/look-close-somethings-strange-in-the-photo-of-the-universe/#ixzz2PjpL7IPd

ChristopherErwinHogan
ChristopherErwinHogan

"The universe is lopsided."  Maybe that proves there is a God, and God was right-handed.  Ya think?

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

Apparently there's space and the space within that space; like an onion?  or maybe a pomegranate or an orange or all three at once.   What seems to matter is how we deal with us as people before we prioritize space.  Not saying it shouldn't be studied; just let's not forget to feed the kids some love before we go building spaceships to the heavens.  I'll be the first to flip burgers on Mars if and when we can get some kind of national interracial mutual good will going.

Mawetwe
Mawetwe

@TIME Big bang!!My...! It was created by the same God who created you!!

mtnfok
mtnfok

anyone think that an explosion of that magnitude would produce anything but dust? where does the chunks come from ? really! what if the center  mass was pulled apart from some still unknown force then you would have chunks.

stlmikem77
stlmikem77

Question for anyone who actually knows: It says the universe expanded "the universe expanded at an incomprehensibly rapid rate" for a fraction of a second. What was the rate approx.? Was it faster thant the speed of light? If so, didn't Einstein est. that nothing at or below the speed of light can travel beyond that; anythng above that rate would actually travel "backwards" in time from our perspective. Simply curious as to whether this would apply, what the explanation would be for it, etc.

Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

@MarcShakter:

I think you are right.  The popular theory, never actually proven I believe, is that there is no origin point for the Big Bang -- the universe simply expands out in the same way from every point. That could be wrong. I think the cold spot may be the an empty bubble formed around the origin point of the Big Bang as matter expanded away from it in a shell. Light crossing from the far side of this gap will have been traveling longer that other parts of the "cosmic microwave background" which would make it more stretched out and colder than the rest, hence the cold spot.

MetroIssuesLou
MetroIssuesLou

@quatra The age of the universe is determined by other means than just the most distant visible galaxy.  Check out the WMAP project for details.

mycrazydream
mycrazydream

@quatra Hello quatra, you are right in thinking that we have no idea what lies beyond this visible horizon, and it would be myopic of us to conclude that this was all there was. But thinking in terms of diameter is giving you the wrong picture. Did you know that if you started at one place in the universe and headed in a "straight" line (as much as possible in spacetime) you would eventually end up where you started at. A lot of physicists these days think of the shape of the universe as a torus (think the shape of a donut) rather than a sphere, but your thinking of a multiverse is sound and it is one that fits more and more models that theoretical physicists are coming up with these days.

RobertBrennan
RobertBrennan

@mycrazydream , I've read that the constants you mentioned did not exist until after the universe began to cool down. Therefore they could not be inherent properties but process reactions. I'm a little disappointed that we have lagged in creating better space based telescopes, though I am encouraged by the more recent dark matter experiments being conducted on the ISS. There are many more hypothesis than required data. 

TomDean
TomDean

@Monika Gotkiewicz Dang man-made CO2 emissions... Now they've gone and heated up all but a portion of the entire frickin' universe... We'd better create more regulations fast. AUW has arrived.  

mycrazydream
mycrazydream

@Whatanotion Wow, do you think before you speak or is it all just fruit, kiddies, and mars burger-flipping up there? You must have found some really good acid. /troll

mycrazydream
mycrazydream

@Mawetwe I like how Big bang got two exclamation points. It must have been really big. I have no idea what the ellipsis after "My" is supposed to connotate, but I'm sure it's intense! Woo-hoo! I get two exclamation points too! That ranks me right up there with the big bang! Amazing! God doesn't warrant any, unfortunately, but I'm always pulling for him in your awe-inspiring comments. /troll

JeffreyCooper
JeffreyCooper

@mtnfok There wasn't anything to explode to create "chunks".  It's a hard concept, but at the quantum level, particles pop into and out of existence constantly.  The burst of energy (matter and energy are interchangeable) was so huge that part of it went into particle creation over time, which as the universe cooled, gradually coalesced.

So it started out as a big cloud of super-energized plasma, that turned into atoms, that then gradually started condensing.  Most of this was hydrogen, the simplest molecule.  Early stars formed almost purely of hydrogen.  Once (it took hundreds of millions of years) they reached high enough density, the resulting heat and pressure at the core was enough to start nuclear fusion.  That formed helium.  As hydrogen was consumed, the core became denser and heavier (helium is 4x hotter).  Once it hit a hotter and higher pressure point, the helium started to fuse into even heavier elements until the star ran out of fuel.  At some point in this runaway process, forces no long balance out an the star undergoes catastrophic collapse.  If the star is less than 3x our sun's mass, it will not turn into a black hole and utlimately the implosion hits a point with such force that it reverses (bounces) and super novas and it disperse those now-much-heavier elements (even iron) into the cosmos.  That debris formed the seeds of today's planets.

Short story... :)

Heian
Heian

@stlmikem77 Relatively speaking, all of the universe was moving at that incomprehensibly rapid rate. So the "speed of light" is something you have to consider, in terms of when it actually came to be, as well as space-time.

You can't really think in terms of the laws of physics when it comes to the Big Bang. Were the rules the same? Maybe the Big Bang came about due to another, entirely unknown set of universal rules and a whole definition of "physics" that defies what we could imagine. 

Try and visualize a universe where the speed of sound and the speed of light were switched. The interaction with so many things would be turned on its ear - a "sonic boom" would be completely beyond comprehension! Of course, it doesn't make sense given the context of our universe as we know it, but that's the point: that's how we know it, but there's so much we don't know.

thomasvesely
thomasvesely

@stlmikem77 

IMO;

"inflation"

dark matter

dark energy

created by us to justify our conclusions.....

JeffreyCooper
JeffreyCooper

@stlmikem77It expanded at *far* faster speeds than light, and Einstein did not preclude *space* expanding faster than light.  Things within space are limited, but the spacetime fabric itself is not under that restriction.  So spacetime expanded at billions of times faster than the speed of light for a few fractions of a second before calming down.  Likely that was due to some repulsive force whose effect diminished with the distance.

mycrazydream
mycrazydream

@RobertBrennan @mycrazydream If I put water in a freezer and it turns to ice, was the ability to freeze inherent or reactive. if you can explain that to me, maybe I'll have an idea of what you are trying to say.

w0wie
w0wie

@mycrazydream I am more concerned about that missing space behind the second "!" .  Does that denote some secret meaning?  Some deep religious significance?  Perhaps it means we should all space out when listing to him?

Truly a mind worth putting in a jar some day for study.


mycrazydream
mycrazydream

This is sound conjecture, not to put too much of a pun on it. Considering that quanta can gain enough energy to do weird things like quantum tunneling from a phonon, a quantum unit of sound, or the fact that our sun is pretty much the same temperature at the edge add the core because of the energy created by sound. 

RobertBrennan
RobertBrennan

@JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77  There remain many unsolved mysteries but that is what makes it all worth while and exciting.  Understanding how far we have come already is mind expanding. At our current rate of solving fundamental questions with technology I'm confident the next generation of scientists will breached these impasses and an entirely new understanding will emerge.

Whatanotion
Whatanotion

@JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77 Hey Jeffrey; instead of a repulsive force could it have been the simultaneous gravitational forces of the flung out matter?  So, an initially overcome attractive force re-asserting  a limit to entropy?  I'm guessing.

Felix_Bravo
Felix_Bravo

@JeffreyCooper@stlmikem77Inflation theory, as you are talking about, is basically science taking every issue that is wrong with their theory and showing it all as far away as possible. Basically, nothing at all moved at astounding speeds laying out a "grid", which space then came humming along in, at legal light speed.

This "grid", just so happens to not be uniform, and that is why the universe is not uniform, which it most certainly was supposed to be had there been no illegal grid.

Voila! Nur hexerei!

Heian
Heian

@JeffreyCooper@Felix_Bravo@stlmikem77Felix suffers from a condition many shortsighted individuals come down with. The difference between what they think and others think is, he "knows" what he thinks, and others only "think" what think. He assumes his viewpoint is absolute, and others is based in flimsy logic.

Basically, if he doesn't immediately agree with another viewpoint, he immediately assumes it is wrong. He would make an atrocious scientist.

Rather ironic he said as much: "man is going to cling to a wrong theory untill(sic) reality basically forces him away"

JeffreyCooper
JeffreyCooper

@Felix_Bravo @JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77 Sorry about the native tongue comment.  However, it is not my theory.  And it may not necessarily be correct, but there isn't much better out there (though there is loop quantum theory that competes with string theory).  I've no idea what your theory actually is as you haven't given insight to it.  I wasn't the one coming in here making comments about picking noses- you did that, so you started with the attitude.  I get tired of people pontificating and dissing most of the body of science when they lack credentials themselves and don't bother to actually explain themselves.  You have explained nothing other than to say your theory is better.

Felix_Bravo
Felix_Bravo

@JeffreyCooper @Felix_Bravo @stlmikem77 You are seeking out "my theory", so you can say; Ha!

Your theory is dumber than my theory. My theory has now been defended. 

In lack of my theory, you decide to attack me personally instead.

Ha! I am dumb.

Hurry away while your are still engulfed in your hollow shine of self righteousness, surely you'll have to be out the door before people realise you are butt-naked. Well at least before you realise it yourself.

I'd like to add to, being non american, I actually didn't know you didn't spell Kindergarten with a d. How well do you fare in my native tongue I wonder.


Felix_Bravo
Felix_Bravo

@JeffreyCooper @Felix_Bravo @stlmikem77 Did you ever hear the scientist who said: In order to disprove a theory, I do not need to present the correct theory, I just need to prove the given theory wrong.

He was right, but as we learned from the sciencephilosophers like Emmanuel Kant and Popper, man is going to cling to a wrong theory untill reality basically forces him away. Stick to a given paradigm for as long as possible, untill forced away. And that is surely what it looks like again, man clinging to a theory patching left and right while the hole just grows bigger and bigger.

JeffreyCooper
JeffreyCooper

@Felix_Bravo @JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77 Science makes mistakes and adapts all the time as nuances are discovered that allow them to refine things.  When unknowns present themselves, Science inserts best estimates to make the data fit.  Here's the important part- they are open to refinement and are constantly testing those theories for accuracy.  By disparaging science as you do from a position of ignorance, you are part of what is going wrong with this country.  Your comment about kindergarten children (I noted your misspelling) picking their noses is very juvenile and pretty much tells me all I need to know about your supposed expertise.  I tried to answer genuine questions that people had from a position of respect.  However, you hide behind a moniker and disparage things, but no one knows who you are.  How brave.

JeffreyCooper
JeffreyCooper

@Felix_Bravo @JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77 I'm so sorry, Felix- you must be the world's best cosmologist.  I must have missed your books- I'll look for them immediately.  Do tell who your publisher is, or get one if you don't have one.  I really await your astounding insight, as I'm sure you have your own deep theories as to the ignorance of science.

Felix_Bravo
Felix_Bravo

@JeffreyCooper @stlmikem77 Science has shown it's ignorance to be about the size of 96% of the known universe. Making theories as kindergarden children pick their noses.