Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Astronomers peer into the first trillionth of a second

By Aussiegirl

Some science articles are more mind-boggling than others, and I find this one of the most dazzling. First we must imagine cutting a second into a trillion parts -- but what's worse, we are then asked to imagine that the universe grew from submicroscopic to astronomical size in that cosmic eye blink! Yet perhaps the most awe inspiring part of this is that we small bipeds living on a small planet have managed to think our way to such mind-blogging conclusions.

Astronomers peer into the first trillionth of a second

Scientists say they have new evidence for what happened during the universe’s first trillionth of a second, obtained from looking at the afterglow of the explosion that started it all.

The WMAP satellite has produced a new, more detailed picture of the infant universe, scientists say. Colors indicate "warmer" (red) and "cooler" (blue) spots in the infant universe. The white bars show the "polarization" direction of the oldest light. This new information helps to pinpoint when the first stars formed and provides new clues about events that transpired in the first trillionth of a second of the universe.

During that period, many cosmologists believe the universe grew from submicroscopic to astronomical size in far less than an eye blink.

Researchers say the new findings are the best evidence yet for this scenario, known as “inflation.”

The evidence was gathered from what’s believed to be the afterglow of the Big Bang explosion that gave birth to the cosmos, some 14 billion years ago.

This light, called the cosmic background radiation, is thought to provide a sort of picture of the universe as it was shortly after the Big Bang. [....]

“It amazes me that we can say anything about what transpired within the first trillionth of a second of the universe, but we can,” said Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., principal investigator for the project. “We have never before been able to understand the infant universe with such precision. It appears that [it] had the kind of growth spurt that would alarm any mom or dad.”

The new findings also support established theories on what has happened to matter and energy since the inflation, the researchers said, providing a consistent picture of how the cosmos grew from microscopic fluctuations to form stars, planets and life.

According to this picture, researchers say, only 4 percent of the universe consists of ordinary atoms. Another 22 percent is an as-yet unidentified dark matter that exerts a gravitational pull but seems undetectable otherwise. And 74 percent is a mysterious dark energy, which is now causing another growth spurt—fortunately, they say, gentler than the one at the beginning.


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