Friday, March 17, 2006

So after two years waiting, the WMAP data is out. This satellite has been taking data to study the anisotropies in temperature and polarisation in the microwave background radiation with stunning accuracy and today the results were belatedly announced. I shan't rewrite what everyone else has written as there are a lot of people who know infinitely more about this subject than I do and have given a great overview of what the results mean. See Cosmic Variance and Bad Astronomy Blog for two of the best reviews I've found.

Basically though, the results mean that our current ideas about the early stages of the universe, given by the standard cosmological model, match the data even more accurately than before. There are still a couple of anomalous data points but basically the conclusion is that we really do seem to be along the right lines when it comes to the history of the universe. I do find it truly incredible that from a few simple elements on our planet, organic compounds were created, simple life evolved, more complex life evolved, we became self aware and quickly started learning about what was around us. In a remarkably short space of time we have the audacity to think that we know what was happening in the first few fractions of a second after the big bang. To me it seems less powerful to say that we are self aware than that the universe has itself become self aware with us as the vessels. This isn't meant to sound like science fiction, it just all seems pretty miraculous to me.

So what does the universe look like when viewed in microwave? Well, with unprecedented accuracy, something like this (courtesy of NASA):

This image and it's underlying data has got a lot of people very excited. Funny old world huh?

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