Another cool science story:Universal Origins

Posted: March 16, 2008 in Evolution, News, Technology

bigbang2.jpgI simply love science and the things that it is able to figure out and show.  It is almost certainly one of the main tools that has allowed humanity to crawl out of superstitious backwardsness (hm, think I just made up a word) and into an age far more based on reason, logic and simple intellectual integrity.

This particular story has to do with NASA releasing data from microwaves left over from the Universe when it was only 380,000 years old.

NASA released this week five years of data collected by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) that refines our understanding of the universe and its development. It is a treasure trove of information, including at least three major findings:

WMAP cosmic microwave fluctuations over the full sky with 5-years of data. Colors represent the tiny temperature fluctuations of the remnant glow from the infant universe: red regions are warmer and blue are cooler. Credit: WMAP Science Team

  • New evidence that a sea of cosmic neutrinos permeates the universe
  • Clear evidence the first stars took more than a half-billion years to create a cosmic fog
  • Tight new constraints on the burst of expansion in the universe’s first trillionth of a second

“We are living in an extraordinary time,” said Gary Hinshaw of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Ours is the first generation in human history to make such detailed and far-reaching measurements of our universe.”

WMAP measures a remnant of the early universe – its oldest light. The conditions of the early times are imprinted on this light. It is the result of what happened earlier, and a backlight for the later development of the universe. This light lost energy as the universe expanded over 13.7 billion years, so WMAP now sees the light as microwaves. By making accurate measurements of microwave patterns, WMAP has answered many longstanding questions about the universe’s age, composition and development.

The universe is awash in a sea of cosmic neutrinos. These almost weightless sub-atomic particles zip around at nearly the speed of light. Millions of cosmic neutrinos pass through you every second.

“A block of lead the size of our entire solar system wouldn’t even come close to stopping a cosmic neutrino,” said science team member Eiichiro Komatsu of the University of Texas at Austin.

Relative constituents of the universe today, and for when the universe was 380,000 years old, 13.7 billion years ago. Neutrinos used to be a larger fraction of the energy of the universe than they are now.

WMAP has found evidence for this so-called “cosmic neutrino background” from the early universe. Neutrinos made up a much larger part of the early universe than they do today.

Microwave light seen by WMAP from when the universe was only 380,000 years old, shows that, at the time, neutrinos made up 10% of the universe, atoms 12%, dark matter 63%, photons 15%, and dark energy was negligible. In contrast, estimates from WMAP data show the current universe consists of 4.6% percent atoms, 23% dark matter, 72% dark energy and less than 1 percent neutrinos.

Cosmic neutrinos existed in such huge numbers they affected the universe’s early development. That, in turn, influenced the microwaves that WMAP observes. WMAP data suggest, with greater than 99.5% confidence, the existence of the cosmic neutrino background – the first time this evidence has been gleaned from the cosmic microwaves.

Much of what WMAP reveals about the universe is because of the patterns in its sky maps. The patterns arise from sound waves in the early universe. As with the sound from a plucked guitar string, there is a primary note and a series of harmonics, or overtones. The third overtone, now clearly captured by WMAP, helps to provide the evidence for the neutrinos.

The hot and dense young universe was a nuclear reactor that produced helium. Theories based on the amount of helium seen today predict a sea of neutrinos should have been present when helium was made. The new WMAP data agree with that prediction, along with precise measurements of neutrino properties made by Earth-bound particle colliders.

Another breakthrough derived from WMAP data is clear evidence the first stars took more than a half-billion years to create a cosmic fog. The data provide crucial new insights into the end of the “dark ages,” when the first generation of stars began to shine. The glow from these stars created a thin fog of electrons in the surrounding gas that scatters microwaves, in much the same way fog scatters the beams from a car’s headlights.

The first peak reveals a specific spot size for early universe sound waves, just as the length of guitar string gives a specific note. The second and third peaks are the harmonics. Credit: WMAP Science Team

“We now have evidence that the creation of this fog was a drawn-out process, starting when the universe was about 400 million years old and lasting for half a billion years,” said WMAP team member Joanna Dunkley of the University of Oxford in the U.K. and Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. “These measurements are currently possible only with WMAP.”

A third major finding arising from the new WMAP data places tight constraints on the astonishing burst of growth in the first trillionth of a second of the universe, called “inflation”, when ripples in the very fabric of space may have been created. Some versions of the inflation theory now are eliminated. Others have picked up new support.

“The new WMAP data rule out many mainstream ideas that seek to describe the growth burst in the early universe,” said WMAP principal investigator, Charles Bennett, of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. “It is astonishing that bold predictions of events in the first moments of the universe now can be confronted with solid measurements.”

The five-year WMAP data were released this week, and results were issued in a set of seven scientific papers submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.

Prior to the release of the new five-year data, WMAP already had made a pair of landmark finds. In 2003, the probe’s determination that there is a large percentage of dark energy in the universe erased remaining doubts about dark energy’s very existence. That same year, WMAP also pinpointed the 13.7 billion year age of the universe.

Additional WMAP science team institutions are: the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, Columbia University, University of British Columbia, ADNET Systems, University of Chicago, Brown University, and UCLA.

Now you have to admit, that is rather cool.  More and more, science is able to peer back into the origins of the Universe and discover more and more exactly what happened.
We’re now back to looking at bits of the Universe from when it was only 380,000 years old – that’s less than an eye blink in the scale of Universal time from the Big Bang.

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Comments
  1. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  2. Sirius says:

    I do love the Big Bang. Maybe it’s because I love Independence Day as a kid.

    You do realize that a beginning is bad for evolution, right? No more unlimited time for life to magically appear. Suddenly, it’s Beat the Clock and… you’re out of time.

    Also a beginning implies a First Cause, Something outside the Universe that caused the effect we call, time, the universe and everything. Everything in the universe needs an explanation for why it bothers to exist. God, being outside the constraints of the universe He created would not need an explanation.

    By the way, ever notice how evolution, a theory based on natural selection, a mechanism for explaning how life adapts to environment, keeps getting misapplied to things outside of biology, like cosmology?

    Happy Independence Day! Have an Independent Thought!

    — Sirius Knott

  3. Matt says:

    You do realize that a beginning is bad for evolution, right?

    Not at all. It fits nicely with cosmological (and geological, for that matter) time scales.

    Also a beginning implies a First Cause

    Implies, not demands. Think on this, and it is hard to get your head around, that before the Universe existed … time didn’t.

    God, being outside the constraints of the universe He created would not need an explanation.

    And is also an entirely unnecessary mechanism to explain such. Kindly try reading up on some scientific theories and models, which happen to nicely explain the origin of the universe through rational means – all backed up by evidence.

    By the way, ever notice how evolution, a theory based on natural selection, a mechanism for explaning how life adapts to environment, keeps getting misapplied to things outside of biology, like cosmology?

    Yes, usually by creationists.
    I don’t know where you got evolution = big bang from this article. It wasn’t mentioned in anything I wrote or the article.
    You possibly became confused because I whacked it under an ‘evolution’ tag but it still fits – the evolution of the Universe from the hot state mentioned to what it is now.

  4. Sirius says:

    Good, you’re a thinker.

    I don’t equate evolution with the big bang. I merely noted that it puts a time constraint on how long life has to miraculously emerged and THEN evolved to its present state. It’s a very improbable time scale if you’ve done the math. Improbable to the point of rediculousness.

    I’m glad that you don’t apply evolution to cosmology either. had to cover my bases. ;]

    I am aware that time didn’t exist before the universe.I brought it up, in fact. A First cause to the universe is not only implied it is demanded by the actuality of the EFFECT known as the universe you and I are living in.

    The First Cause to the Universe need not be the First Cause to everything [if that’s what you’re implying], but the universe does demand an explanation of why it is.
    Even cosmologists are looking for it, only they call it a “grand unifying theory” or a “theory of everything.”

    I’ve read up on Hawkings and few of the other scientific models. I find his imaginary concept to be just a modern way of saying “infinity turtles.” If you’ve read it, you’ll understand my meaning.

    What specific models are you refering to?

    –Sirius Knott

  5. tinyfrog says:

    I don’t equate evolution with the big bang. I merely noted that it puts a time constraint on how long life has to miraculously emerged and THEN evolved to its present state.

    I’m not sure what you’re even talking about. The evolution of life on earth is constrained to the formation of the planet – 4.5 billion years ago. This is well after the Big Bang. It’s not the Big Bang that puts a time constraint on things.

    It’s a very improbable time scale if you’ve done the math. Improbable to the point of rediculousness.

    I have yet to see any creationist who has “done the math” or does it in any kind of a reasonable manner that reflects evolutionary theory. I see the same thing over and over – they setup some completely unrealistic model of evolution, and tell you that the math needs to be done a certain way (which of course, makes evolution appear improbable – in their very bad model). Evolution isn’t improbable to the point of ridiculousness, although creationists have mislead you into believing it is. Are creationists deliberately lying when they setup these bad models, or are they really that ignorant about evolutionary theory?

  6. Sirius says:

    Actually, the newest evolutionary research indicates that due to meteoric bombardment during this period of the Earth’s history [again, according to evolutionary timescale] that life started and stopped several times, so your time frame is foreshortened quite a bit.

    Hugh Ross did the math. The book is called The Creator and The Cosmos.

    It’s a good read. Enjoy.

    –Sirius Knott

  7. apostatepakistanigirl says:

    Hi, Matt, it the Pakistani apostate girl, facscinating reading and as you visited my blog u know the importance of sci fi to me, anyhow.
    I got out of Islam through popular science, hence practically the first thing i wrote up was a memorial to Arthur. C. Clarke. Anyhow, i also think TV shows need to brush up, for one thing- the number of stars in our galaxy, it varies ridiculously from show to show- from anything between 50 billion stars to a 100 billion. Now that’s a pretty wide margin and I still got no idea which it actually is. Thanks for posting on my site by the way, I can’t comment back on that particular picture cos I get so many nasty e.mails from from angry Muslims and I am afraid to encourage their anger \ prurient sexual interest in me any further, i hope u understand. Great blog here and I shall definetly be coming back!!!

  8. Matt says:

    The number of stars is actually very hard to tell, even with the latest of modern technology. I saw an animation somewhere recently which had the Hubble Telescope pointed at the smallest fraction of space and … well, the results are remarkable. Now I wish I had saved it … ha.

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