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Ancient light suggests universe older than thought (pictures)

Astronomers say they have compiled the most precise sky map ever, shedding new light on the first moments of the universe.

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Charles Cooper
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1 of 4 ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Oldest light in the universe

This map depicts the oldest light in our universe, some 370,000 years ago. The data sent in from the Planck mission now puts the universe's age at about 13.8 billion years old, or some 100 million years older than earlier estimates. Also, the data suggests that the universe expanded at a very rapid rate shortly after the Big Bang. Scientists reacting to the news expressed delight and surprise at the existence of features which they said challenge conventional understanding of the universe.
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Map of the universe's matter

Another finding suggested by the data: There is less dark energy and more matter in the universe than previously known. Regions with less mass show up on the map as lighter areas while the darker areas point to regions with more mass. Grayed-out areas point to regions where Planck found the light from our own galaxy too bright, thus preventing its ability to map more distant matter.
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Ancient light

Pulling out the patterns from ancient light. The top map is a representation of Planck's all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background. The bottom map shows the largest-scale features of the map.
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4 of 4 ESA/AOES Medialab

The Planck mission

Artist's impression of the Planck spacecraft mission launched on May 14, 2009. Computations from data sent back to Earth were crunched by a Cray XE6 system, which does more than a quintillion calculations per second. To date, Planck has registered roughly a trillion observations of a billion points on the sky, according to Julian Borrill of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. You can find out more about the Planck mission here.

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