'Afterglow' of Big Bang captured by satellite

It's sometimes known as the "afterglow of creation" because it was the first light to be produced when matter began to form following the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.

Now scientists are close to producing the best-ever image of this fossilised relic from the dawn of time.

Yesterday, the European Space Agency released the first image of the entire sky taken by the Planck satellite which was launched last year with the aim of mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation – the afterglow of creation – in every part of the known Universe. The image was produced following the satellite's first full-scan of the entire sky. It will be used to produce the most detailed and precise picture of the background radiation left behind by the fireball of the Big Bang.

In this image, we are seeing the Universe from the centre of the picture looking out. The microwave background radiation is the yellow blotches of light in the further reaches of the Universe in the upper and lower regions of the map. Radiation from our own galaxy, the Milky Way, shows up as the streak of white light running through the middle, while the blue and red regions are the radiation given off by the dust and hot gas of interstellar space.

The thin disc of white light from the Milky Way separates the northern sky at the top of the image from the southern sky below. This extraneous radiation which conceals the microwave radiation closest to our own place in the Universe will be digitally erased to produce the most detailed map of the microwave background radiation as seen with nine different bands or "colours" of the microwave light.

"Planck has 'painted' us its first spectacular picture of the Universe," said David Parker, director of space science and exploration at the UK Space Agency, which supports the British participants on the international research project. "This single image captures both our own cosmic backyard – the Milky Way galaxy that we live in – but also the subtle imprint of the Big Bang from which the whole Universe emerged," Dr Parker said.

Scientists first predicted the existence of the cosmic background radiation more than 60 years ago and it was first detected in the 1960s. Sixteen years ago, the Cobe satellite produced the first full-sky map of the radiation, showing that it must have derived from the Big Bang because it exists in every direction of the Universe that is scanned.

"It has taken 16 years of hard work by many scientists in Europe, the US and Canada to produce this new image of the early Universe. Planck is working brilliantly and we expect to learn a lot about the Big Bang and the creation of our Universe," said Professor George Efstathiou, the Planck Survey Scientist at Cambridge University.

The cosmic background radiation was released about 400,000 years after the Big Bang when the first atoms were beginning to form. Scientists believe that the "clumpiness" of the background radiation is actually the cosmic blueprint from which today's clusters of galaxies formed under the influence of gravity – a relic map of the Universe from the beginning of time.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, an experienced and hig...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat