First Map of Infant Universe Shows Asymmetry, Dark Matter

The first map of the universe in its infancy showed the seeds of the stars and galaxies of today and previously unobserved anomalies, astronomers said.

The all-sky map is based on the first 15.5 months of observations with the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, capturing the oldest light in the universe, emitted when it was only 380,000 years old, the agency and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics said in a statement.

The data generated from the map generally confirm the established view of the universe and imply that it is 13.82 billion years old. They also show some new features, such as a greater proportion of dark matter than previously thought, with normal matter, consisting of galaxies, stars and Earth, contributing only about 5 percent to the total mass and energy density, the scientists said. Another surprise was an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky, they said.

“The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, in the statement.

The data also revealed that the universe is expanding at a rate that is significantly less than previously estimated, and a cold spot extending over a patch of sky is much larger than expected. A possible explanation is that the universe is in fact not the same in all directions, they said.

“We see an almost perfect fit to the standard model of cosmology, but with intriguing features that force us to rethink some of our basic assumptions,” said Jan Tauber, ESA’s Planck project scientist. “This is the beginning of a new journey and we expect that our continued analysis of Planck data will help shed light on this conundrum.”

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