Thursday, February 4, 2010

Big Bang Radiation, Helium, Age of the Universe and All That

"New Look at Big Bang Radiation Refines Age of Universe"
Wired Science (February 3, 2010)

"Six papers posted online present new satellite snapshots of the earliest light in the universe. By analyzing these images, cosmologists have made the most accurate determination of the age of the cosmos, have directly detected primordial helium gas for the first time and have discovered a key signature of inflation, the leading model of how the cosmos came to be.

"The analysis, based on the first seven years of data taken by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, also provides new evidence that the mysterious entity revving up the expansion of the universe resembles Einstein’s cosmological constant, a factor he inserted but later removed...."

There's nothing new and startling here - apart from direct detection of the universe's first helium - but, as one of the scientists said, the detection " 'is not a surprise, but it's nice to have confirmation'...."

Age of the universe, updated and refined: 13.73 billion years, plus or minus 0.12 billion.) 13,730,000,000 years: give or take 120,000,000. That's a lot of zeroes.

Just how old the universe is, and how primordial helium was polarized, may not seem all that connected with collecting the next paycheck or photos of baby elephants. But that baby elephant and the photographer who took the picture wouldn't have been possible without the mix of matter and energy that held that helium.

Cosmology - the study of how the universe works - is sort of like Genealogy. It's all about stuff that's already happened: but without that stuff, you wouldn't be around to be disinterested in it.

Which is about as much philosophy as I can handle right now.

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