You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Science

Universe is actually 80 million to 120 million years older than earlier thought

The satellite used “relic’’ microwave radiation to create this image of the cosmos about 380,000 years after the big bang.

European Space Agency via AFP/Getty Images

The satellite used “relic’’ microwave radiation to create this image of the cosmos about 380,000 years after the big bang.

Astronomers released the latest and most exquisite baby picture yet of the universe on Thursday, one that showed it to be 80 million to 100 million years older and a little fatter, with more light and dark matter, than previously thought, and perhaps slightly lopsided.

Recorded by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, the image is a heat map of the cosmos as it appeared only 380,000 years after the big bang, speckled with faint spots from which galaxies would grow over billions of years.

Continue reading below

The map, the Planck team said in news conferences and in 29 papers posted online Thursday, is in stunning agreement with the general view of the universe that has emerged during the past 20 years, of a cosmos dominated by dark energy that is pushing it apart and dark matter that is pulling galaxies together. It also shows a universe that seems to have endured an explosive burp known as inflation, which was the dynamite in the big bang.

In a statement issued by the European Space Agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain, its director-general, said, ‘‘The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete.’’

Marc Kamionkowski, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University who commented on the work at a news teleconference sponsored by NASA, called Planck ‘‘cosmology’s human genome project,’’ and said, ‘‘It shows the seeds from which the current universe grew.’’

David N. Spergel, a Princeton University cosmologist, described the new results as ‘‘beautiful,’’ adding that ‘‘the standard cosmological model looks even stronger today than yesterday. The universe remains simple and strange.’’

Within the standard cosmological framework, however, the new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more heat spots on one side than on the other, and there is an unexplained cool spot in the middle of the map.

Those anomalies had shown up on maps by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe satellite, but some scientists argued that they were because of a bad analysis or contamination from the Milky Way.

Now cosmologists will have to take them more seriously, said Max Tegmark, an expert on the early universe at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was not part of the Planck team and who termed the new results ‘‘very exciting.’’

The new data have allowed astronomers to tweak their model a bit. It now seems the universe is 13.8 billion years old, instead of 13.7 billion, and consists by mass of 4.9 percent atoms, 27 percent dark matter, and 71 percent dark energy.

The biggest surprise, astronomers said, is the universe is expanding slightly more slowly than in past measurements.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week