Thursday, March 21, 2013

Universe Older, Less Frightening Than it Was Yesterday

The Universe just got 100 million years older -- or, rather, it's 100 Myr older than previously thought -- according to the Planck satellite results released today.

That makes it 13.8 billion years instead of 13.7 Byr.

There's also a little less dark energy (68.3%, compared to the previous 71.4%) and a little more dark matter (26.8%; was 24.0%). Since no one has a clue what dark energy is, that makes the Universe just a little less scary than it was yesterday. Of course, no one knows what the dark matter is either, but it's matter, which is somehow less intimidating than some invisible spooky energy field that repels and reaches everywhere.

But normal matter is now known to comprise 4.9%, up from 4.6%. (That rumor that the difference is due to terrestial carbon emissions is untrue.)

Still, we don't know what 95% of the Universe is composed of. It's astonishing if you think about it, especially at night if you look up at the stars. I really don't think this has sunk into the public conscoiusness yet, who fret about more prosaic concerns like American Idol or health care.

(I wrote about the Planck mission, before it was launched, for Scientific American.)

Here's a nice comparison showing the progress in satellite measurements of the temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background:

The Universe Comes into Sharper Focus

Still no evidence of any gods, though (unless they're made of dark energy).

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