Monday, October 09, 2006

Cosmology -- Shape of the Universe

Long-overdue science post.

I've never even heard of this Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and I'm about as robustly geeky as you can find. Anyhow, Italian scientists think that the universe is actually elliptical, rather than spherical, which explains certain ambiguities in background cosmic microwave radiation. Naturally, this solution causes even more questions, like how the universe became elliptical, than it solves. The thinking is magnetic fields, or cosmic strings are causing the shape to warp slightly, by about 1% -- but in something as big as the universe, that's alot.
But hey, this WMAP probe has been a bonanza of coolness since it's launch in 2001. Check out some of the findings here:

"So far data from this probe has helped nail down some of the most important details about the universe. This includes the age of the universe since the Big Bang, at 13.7 billion years; the time when the first atoms formed, at 380,000 years after the Big Bang; and how much of the universe is made of either ordinary matter or the mysteries known as dark matter and dark energy, at roughly 5, 25 and 70 percent, respectively."

Talk about good bang for your buck, this is what NASA should be about. Interesting that it sits at the L2 Lagrange point outside Earth's orbit. I'd love to know what this puppy cost, but whatever the price, it was definitely worth it for the top 2 scientific findings of 2003, among others.

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