New Horizons in Science

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Planck cosmology: Zooming in on big-bang inflation

Topic: Cosmology
oval map of the universe in blues and yellows
ESA and the Planck Collaboration
Sunday, November 3, 2013 -
3:45pm to 4:30pm
Century Ballroom B

What would the universe look like to an electron some 370,000 years after the big bang? This spring the Planck cosmology probe released a fine-scale map of the subtle thermal variations imprinted on the cosmos around that time, revealing that the universe was slightly older than previously thought. But the Planck instruments also measured the polarized intensities of the ancient light. Mission scientists are now working to zoom in using the polarization data, getting that electron’s-eye insider view of the early universe. Cosmologists are eagerly waiting to see whether Planck has detected the gravitational waves that would provide direct confirmation that there was an inflationary period in the instant after the big bang. Meanwhile other experiments are searching for gravitational-wave signatures, in an effort Charles Lawrence calls “the most rapid expansion of our understanding of the universe that’s ever happened.”


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