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

208 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.

Badly-Bent
Badly-Bent

Could it be where the big bang originated?

RodVenger
RodVenger

There seems to be a built in conceit, realized or not, that we exist at the center of the universe. It's evident in the surprise that the universe isn't as uniform as scientists believe. Well, why should it appear uniform if we're somewhere away from it's center? We can likely assume that the universe is roughly spherical in nature with perhaps protrusions on the leading edges where matter is dragging space with it, enlarging the universe. Were we at the center of this sphere we might well believe that the matter around us and leading all the way to the outer edge would more or less be the same density. Clumps here and there yes, but evenly distributed lumps, overall. On the otherhand, if we were closer to the outer edge, then because we are looking through fewer clumps, we'd perceive the view as having less matter than if we were looking towards the center. The greater distance necessarily requires more clumps to be visible in any given degree in our field of view. More evidence of this earth-centric view by scientists is their estimate of the age of the universe. At the moment they put that age at about 13.8 billion years, based on the distance to the what is presumably the wavefront of the background microwave radiation. Sort of like the so-called barrier to the center of the galaxy in Star Trek, science can't see past that point because there's no there to see. Nothing had formed, no galaxies, stars or anything else.  One can only draw that conclusion if one believes we're in the center. If we believed we were a third of the way out from the center, then the distance measurements would have to reflect the differences in distance. Looking towards the edge, distance could be measured as the value DE...distance to edge. Looking the otherway across the universe, past the center, one could deduce the center's distance by measuring to the edge and subtracting out DE.  It's also possible that the image is proof that the universe isn't anything like a sphere, with radiation, and therefore matter, existing only within the colored areas and those areas void of radiation and matter being unexpanded universe boundaries, closer than we might be willing to believe. Beyond this point, there be dragons.

DavidPeters
DavidPeters

This is more than just a tiny curve ball as depicted in this article.  This is HUGE!  The cosmological constant (i.e. the assumption the universe is the same in every direction) is a CORNERSTONE of Cosmoology since, Oh, about 1915 or so when Special Relativity was offered.


There is either something wrong with relativity which changes EVERYTHING or this is some weird statistical fluke.

EuphoriCrest
EuphoriCrest

I think it tells us the identity of god is...


Jackson Pollock!

SjRudloff
SjRudloff

Billion universes (hypothetically, just for Transformer grins), no statistical problem.  One universe.... 

Renea
Renea

As my nephew would say, who's six, "Dark matter? See!!! Transformers must be real!" (dark energon for those who have small boys)

RobertBaker
RobertBaker

The universe appears to be expanding and the galaxies are moving away from each other. However, there are about 100 known galaxies with blue shifts. Some galaxies in our local group NGC 185, Andromeda II, Andromeda III, Andromeda V, Pegasus Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy, Cassiopeia Dwarf, Andromeda IX, Triangulum Galaxy, and Andromeda display a blue shift. They are actually approaching our own galaxy (albeit very slowly in most cases). All the other galaxies in our local group exhibit a redshift. However, the 2dfgrs survey seemed to indicate that the only blue shifted objects detected are not actual galaxies, but stars in our own galaxy. So, are any other galaxies (other than Andromeda) approaching us?

Hermes Emphasis
Hermes Emphasis

It is part of the mysteries of the natural world that could never be fathomed by human intelligence alone.

Nick Rivers
Nick Rivers

Wow! how smart is your wikipedia! :P

Nick Rivers
Nick Rivers

You can't take a photo of the whole universe 'cause it's infinite!

Ishraj S. Inderjeet
Ishraj S. Inderjeet

water, the universe is surrounded by water, we are a bubble within a vast sea. UNIVERSE IS LIVING....

gcarlos7
gcarlos7

water, the universe is surrounded by water, we are a bubble within a vast sea