The Planck mission presents its first images of the early Universe, with an unprecedented level of accuracy
- The results achieved determine the cosmological parameters with an accuracy of 1%. • The obtained images, covering virtually the entire sky and with exquisite detail, reveal how the Universe looked like in its early stages of evolution, that is, when it was only 400,000 years old. Barcelona, 20.03.2013

Tomorrow, March 21st, the European Space Agency (ESA) will release the first maps and cosmological results of the Universe obtained by the Planck satellite. These maps, of unprecedented quality, show images of the primitive Universe, when it was only 400,000 years old.

The Planck mission is a space telescope, launched in May of 2009, located in an orbit around the Langrangian point L2, 1.500.000km away from Earth. The telescope orbits the L2 point, a very stable orbit, while moving in unison with the earth around the sun. The telescope, cooled down to a temperature record of 0.1 degrees above absolute zero (that is, to minus 273.05 degrees Celsius), has been observing the Universe at millimeter and submilimeter radio wavelengths to map the slightest variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Dr. Pablo Fosalba, cosmologist of the Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC-CSIC) and an active contributing member of the mission, states that "if we compare the current age of the Universe to the age of an adult male, Planck has obtained the equivalent of a high quality picture of the person’s first day of life. By analizing these images, the telescope will be able to precise the basic cosmological parameters, something like the Universe’s ID, with an accuracy 10 times greater than that achieved to date".

The cosmology group of the Institute of Space Sciences (IEEC-CSIC) has been part of the Planck mission since its establishment in 1997. Since the beginning, its scientists have been involved in the science team, focusing on the design and preparation of the mission’s scientific program. With the years, they also became involved in studying the polarized signal of the cosmic microwave background, and the contaminated emission produced by our galaxy. The main objective has been to model, in all its complexity and extreme levels of detail, PLANCK’s observations, and to properly extract and interpret all the information from these unique images generated by the light from the cosmic microwave background.

Pablo Fosalba’s most relevant work, who is co-author of several of the publications that will be presented tomorrow, has focused on providing new insights in the process of large-scale structure formation in the Universe by studying the correlation between the maps of the cosmic microwave background and catalogs of galaxies, such as the catalog from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The study of this correlation, known as Integrated Sachs Wolfe effect (ISW), provided the first amazing results in 2003, when a team led by Pablo Fosalba, as well as other members of ICE (IEEC-CSIC) such as Enrique Gaztañaga and Francisco Castander, obtained the first detection of this correlation using data from the WMAP satellite and the largest existing catalogs of galaxies at that moment (ie, the SDSS and APM catalogs).

This work as well as other independent studies, which simultaneously obtained consistent results, were recognized by Science as the scientific breakthrough of the year, since they provided new evidence for the existence of dark energy in the Universe. This form of energy, the most abundant in the present Universe, as derived from current cosmological datasets, is responsible for its accelerated expansion, as demonstrated at the time by the pioneering measurements based on supernovae explosions.

In tomorrow’s press release, ESA will present the PLANCK images that correspond to the first 15 months of observation and show the first structures that formed in the Universe, those that subsequently led to the formation of the galaxies we see today in the sky. On another hand, it will also release the first results on the basic cosmological parameters, obtained with an accuracy of 1%. These observational values, of the so-called standard cosmological model, have never been achieved with such accuracy using only one single experiment.

A second round of results is expected for 2014, which will provide, as a novelty, the analysis on the polarized signal from the cosmic microwave background. This signal, even more difficult and elusive to measure, promises to provide complementary and crucial information that intends to unravel the nature of the origin of the Universe.

ESA official Press Release:

Cosmology Group webpage at the Institute of Space Sciences

Contact Information

Pablo Fosalba
Institut de Ciències de l’Espai, ICE (CSIC/IEEC)
Tel: +34 93 581 43 59

Comunication Department
Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC)
Alina Hirschmann:
Generalitat de CatalunyaUniversitat de BarcelonaUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaUniversitat Politècnica de CatalunyaConsejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasCentres de Recerca de Catalunya