Space.com -- A map of the universe based on its oldest light is giving astronomers hope that they may be able to answer some of the deepest questions of the cosmos, including how it got started.
Scientists met this week at the University of California, Davis to pore over the treasure trove of data published two months ago from the European Planck spacecraft. The observatory measures what's called the cosmic microwave background — light spread across the sky that dates from soon after the Big Bang that kick-started the universe.
"We have the best map ever of the cosmic microwave background, and that shows us what the universe was like 370,000 years after the Big Bang," said Charles Lawrence, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California who is the lead U.S. scientist on the Planck project. Lawrence and other researchers summed up the consequences of the meeting, called the Davis Cosmic Frontiers Conferences, in a call to reporters Friday (May 24). [Gallery: Planck Spacecraft Sees Big Bang Relics]
The cosmic microwave background (CMB) was first discovered in 1964, and since then a series of experiments, culminating in Planck, have measured it in increasing detail, providing cosmologists a direct line to test theories about the beginnings of the universe. Planck launched in 2009, and the recent data represent the product of the spacecraft's first 15.5 months of observations.
"Rarely in the history of science has there been such a triumphant transformation from really complete ignorance to really deep insights in just a few decades," said Andreas Albrecht, chair of the University of California, Davis Department of Physics.
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