The Universe according to Planck

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Ok, ok, I know I’m a day late with this, but this first all-sky image from the Planck Telescope is so beautiful it deserves a mention. Planck was launched in May 2009, on the same rocket as the Herschel Telescope. It’s designed to measure the leftover radiation from the Big Bang – the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which Rita has talked about here before. The picture above is the result of its first year of observing – it takes that long to cover the whole sky, as this neat video (halfway down) shows – and it will repeat this every year until the mission comes to an end.

The most striking feature of this image are the billowing clouds of dust (blue) and gas (red) in our Galaxy. These extend far above and below the main galactic disc (the bright horizontal line in the centre), where we live. Unfortunately, it’s the yellow mottled patches coming from the first light in the Universe (the CMB) that the scientists that built Planck are mainly interested in, and, as you can see, these foreground clouds get in the way, except at the top and bottom of the map. Luckily, with a lot of careful analysis, these can be removed, and then lots of science can be done!

Here’s a version of the image with various features in and outside our Galaxy labelled:

For lots more information and pretty pictures see here or here. It also made the ITV news last night.

Finally, if you want to play more with this Planck image it’s been added to the excellent Chromoscope. Get over there and zoom around!