The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy
Probe (WMAP) team has made the first detailed full-sky map of the oldest
light in the universe. It is a "baby picture" of the universe. Colors indicate
"warmer" (red) and "cooler" (blue) spots. The oval shape is a projection
to display the whole sky; similar to the way the globe of the earth can be
projected as an oval.
The microwave light captured in this picture
is from 379,000 years after the Big Bang, over
13 billion years ago: the equivalent of taking
a picture of an 80-year-old
person on the day of their birth.
The Light in Sharp Focus
1992, NASA's COBE mission first detected tiny temperature fluctuations (shown
as color variations) in the infant universe, a landmark discovery.
The WMAP image brings the COBE picture
into sharp focus, similar to bringing the hospital wristband of the baby
into readable focus (above right). The new, detailed image provides firm
answers to age-old questions.
In the Details
The data brings into high resolution the seeds that generated the cosmic
structure we see today. These patterns are tiny temperature differences within
an extraordinarily evenly dispersed microwave light bathing the Universe,
which now averages a frigid 2.73 degrees above absolute zero temperature.
WMAP resolves slight temperature fluctuations, which vary by only millionths
of a degree.
The new data support and strengthen the Big Bang and Inflation Theories.
The science data for this mission is stored in a new on-line archive: Legacy
Archive for Microwave Background Data Analysis (LAMBDA).
Last updated: Tuesday, 01-25-2005