March 21, 2013

Universe is a little older than scientists had thought

Findings from a European satellite show the cosmos is expanding more slowly than had been believed.

Lori Hinnant and Seth Borenstein / The Associated Press

PARIS - A new examination allows astronomers to tweak the age, girth and speed of the universe, more secure in their knowledge of how it evolved, what it's made of and its ultimate fate.

click image to enlarge

This image released by the European Space Agency shows the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background acquired by ESA's Planck space telescope. George Esfthathiou, an astrophysicist who announced the Planck satellite mapping, says the findings also offer new specificity of the universe's composition.

The Associated Press

The age of the universe is now calculated at 13.8 billion years -- 80 million years older than scientists had thought.

It's got about 3 percent more girth -- technically it's more matter than mysterious dark energy -- and it is expanding about 3 percent more slowly.

But with all that comes the wisdom for humanity. Scientists seem to have gotten a good handle on the Big Bang and what happened just afterward, and may actually understand a bit more about the cosmic question of how we are where we are.

All from a baby picture of fossilized light and sound.

The snapshot from a European satellite had scientists from Paris to Washington celebrating a cosmic victory of knowledge Thursday -- basic precepts that go back all the way to Einstein and relativity.

The Planck space telescope mapped background radiation from the early universe -- now calculated at about 13.8 billion years old.

The results bolstered a key theory called "inflation," which says the universe burst from subatomic size to its vast expanse in a fraction of a second just after the Big Bang that created the cosmos.

"We've uncovered a fundamental truth of the universe," said George Efstathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, who announced the Planck findings in Paris. "There's less stuff that we don't understand by a tiny amount."

The map of the universe's evolution -- in sound echoes and fossilized light going back billions of years -- reinforces some predictions made decades ago solely on the basis of mathematical concepts.

"We understand the very early universe potentially better than we understand the bottom of our oceans," said Bob Nichols, director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth in Britain. "We as humanity put a satellite into space, we predicted what it should see and saw it."

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