Planck Satellite Measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background

Question:  The latest data on the cosmic microwave background seemed to strengthen the anomalous findings from the first map. Do you think there really is evidence of another Universe contacting our own? and are there any new theories to account for the area that was termed ‘the axis of evil’?  — Jon

Answer: The recently released Planck satellite measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation distribution support previous measurements by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellites, showing among other things:

  • That the Universe is 13.82 billion years old, slightly older than previous estimates.
  • That during the first 10−32 seconds or so after the Big Bang the Universe expanded very rapidly, a process called “inflation”.
  • That the Universe is comprise mainly of something called “dark energy”.  Dark energy makes up 68.3% of the energy density of the Universe, while dark matter makes up 26.8%, and finally the remaining contribution to the energy density of the Universe comes from normal matter (the stuff we are made of) at just under 5%.
  • That two oddities noted in the WMAP measurements of the cosmic microwave background are confirmed by Planck.  The first oddity is an apparent asymmetry in the cosmic microwave background emission distribution between opposite hemispheres of the sky.  This asymmetry was dubbed the “axis of evil” in 2005 by astronomers Kate Land and Joao Majueijo of Imperial College, London.  The second oddity is the existence of a “cold spot” that covers a large area.  Both of these oddities are difficult to explain, as the simplest models of the inflation process predict that fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background should look the same all over the sky.

Note that nothing in these results suggests the existence of another Universe.  These new measurements allow astronomers to further define their models of the Big Bang and the inflationary process that occurred very early in the history of the Universe.

Jeff Mangum

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