Updated: Friday, 19th July 2019 @ 2:43pm

Europe’s Planck space telescope challenges understanding of universe for Manchester scientists

Europe’s Planck space telescope challenges understanding of universe for Manchester scientists

By Alex Bysouth

Anomalies in the universe unexplained by physics – mapped in data from Europe’s Planck space telescope this week – have baffled University of Manchester Jodrell Bank Observatory scientists.

The telescope has compiled the most detailed map of the post-Big Bang universe ever recorded.

The data, from the European Space Agency, also provides the best evidence yet to support the standard model of cosmology – dating the universe at 13.82 billion years old.

Professor Richard Battye, from the Jodrell Bank Centre of Astrophysics at the University of Manchester is excited by the data about the Universe’s composition and evolution.

"Planck has provided us with a huge amount of information about the nature of the very early universe and the fundamental processes taking place there,” he said.

“The data are broadly consistent with the standard picture that has emerged over the last 20 years, but there are also a number of tantalising hints that there is something missing in our understanding.

“It will be fun trying to figure out what is going on."

The telescope was a flagship mission for the UK Space Agency and has produced the most accurate values yet for the ingredients of the Universe.

The map shows normal matter – the things we see and feel around us – making up just 4.9% of the universe’s density (mass and energy) and dark matter contributing 26.8%, nearly a fifth more than previously estimated.

Professor Richard Davis, who led the University of Manchester Planck team, believes Planck’s map sets a benchmark for knowledge into the ingredients of the Universe.


COSMIC: Planck telescope's map of the cosmic microwave background.

“The information extracted from Planck’s new map provides excellent confirmation of the standard model of cosmology with unprecedented accuracy,” he said.

“But because the precision of Planck’s map is so high, it has also revealed some unexplained anomalies in the data that require further study.

“Among these interesting findings are fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background over large scales that do not match what the standard model of physics predicts, including an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the skies.”

The Planck telescope’s image is based on an initial 15 months of data and is the mission’s first all-sky picture of the oldest light in the universe, imprinted when the universe was just 380,000 years old.

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) shows tiny temperature fluctuations corresponding to regions of slightly different densities at very early times after the Big Bang – these fluctuations represent the stars and galaxies seen today.

“The CMB temperature fluctuations detected by Planck confirm once more that the relatively simple picture provided by the simple model is an amazingly good description of the universe,” added George Efstathiou from the University of Cambridge.

One way to explain the anomalies is to propose that the universe is not the same in all directions on a larger scale than so far observed.

In this scenario, the light rays from the CMB may have taken a more complicated route through the cosmos than previously understood, resulting in some of the unusual patterns observed by Planck.

A scenario which has Dr Chris Castelli, Acting Director of Science, Technology and Exploration at the UK Space Agency very excited.

“Planck has the ability to make such detailed and accurate observations,” he said.

“These are helping us to place the vital pieces of the jigsaw that could give us a full picture of the evolution of the Universe, rewriting the textbooks along the way.”

Pictures courtesy of Thorsten Hansen and The University of Manchester, with thanks.

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