The top map shows Planck's all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background, whereas the bottom map shows the largest-scale features of the map.(Photo: ESA and the Planck Collaboration)
Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
A European space satellite mapping the Big Bang's fiery aftermath reports that the universe is slightly more ancient than previously estimated, about 13.8 billion years old.
That pushes the age estimate for the cosmos back about 100 million years, based on the new results from the European Space Agency's Planck space mission.
Planck, named after pioneering German physicist Max Planck, scans the "cosmic microwave background" radiation permeating the sky, leftover heat from the earliest epoch of the universe. Its map reveals clumps of matter that resolved into galaxies in the early universe.
The results of the mission announced Thursday also show the universe is expanding a bit more slowly than past estimates and contains more matter than has been suspected. Most intriguing, "light patterns are asymmetrical on two halves of the sky," says a NASA statement describing the results. That's surprising because physicists would expect the matter releasing this light to be uniformly distributed across the universe.
A space agency briefing later today will feature scientists discussing the findings, which are preliminary to final results expected next year, in more detail.