The Milky Way's magnetic fingerprint could help reveal the history of the universe

The image was compiled using data collected by the Planck mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a new image from the Planck telescope, which at first glance could easily be mistaken for a frothy swirl in a coffee cup, but in fact depicts the Milky Way’s magnetic field lines, and could help astronomers understand the history of the universe.

Launched in 2009, Planck mapped the sky using two state-of-the-art instruments.

Although the mission ended last year, scientists are still analysing the data Planck collected, and hope that it will enable them to piece together how stars are formed.

To create the image, astronomers compiled information from the first all-sky observation of polarised light emitted by interstellar dust in the Milky Way, using a technique called line integral convolution.

Planck collected this data by acting like an astronomical pair of polarised sunglasses.

While the electromagnetic waves that make-up light usually vibrate in directions at right angles to each other and where they are travelling, if this is distrurbed the light becomes “polarised”. This can happen, for example, when light bounces off a reflective surface like a mirror or the sea.

The finger-print-like swirls and arcs in the new ESA image trace the structure of the magnetic field in our home galaxy.

The Milly Way's magnetic fingerprint The Milly Way's magnetic fingerprint
The dark line running horizontally across the centre corresponds to the galactic plane – where the majority of the galaxy’s mass lies.

Tangles which dot the image reveal the variations of polarisation within nearby clouds of gas and dust, showing that the local magnetic field is particularly disorganised.

Surrounding the galactic plane are the darker, more turbulent-looking patches which, indicate strong polarised emissions, while the furrows show the direction of the magnetic field projected on the plane of the sky.

Scientists hope the data will enable them to investigate the early history of the cosmos, from the when the Universe was less than one second old to the period when the first stars were born, several hundred million years later.

Their findings on galactic polarization data have been published in four papers, recently submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

“This is the best picture we've ever had of the magnetic field in the Milky Way over such a large part of the sky,” said Charles Lawrence, the US Planck project scientist for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

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
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing