December 22, 2012
Decoding The Universe’s Autobiography: WMAP Results Released
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
The researchers in charge of an award-winning space mission that set out to collect fundamental measurements of the universe have announced they will be releasing their final results after nearly a decade of work.
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which was launched in June 2001, has collected data that has "revolutionized our view of the universe, establishing a cosmological model that explains a widely diverse collection of astronomical observations," Charles L. Bennett of Johns Hopkins University, the home institution of the WMAP science team leader and astrophysicist , explained in a statement Friday.
Bennett and his colleagues managed to determine with a high degree of accuracy and precision, the age of the universe (approximately 13.77 billion years old, plus or minus 0.5%), the density of both atoms and non-atomic matter, and the epoch during which stars firms began to shine, and both the "lumpiness" of the cosmos and how that trait is dependent upon scale size, the university said.
Thanks to their efforts and the instruments onboard the WMAP, the satellite was able to collect observations that, when used on their own and without other measurement data, have enhanced the precision of each of those fields by approximately 68,000 times, "thereby converting cosmology from a field of often wild speculation to a precision science," they added.
"It is almost miraculous. The universe encoded its autobiography in the microwave patterns we observe across the whole sky. When we decoded it, the universe revealed its history and contents. It is stunning to see everything fall into place," Bennett said of his team's work.
According to NASA, the WMAP science team mapped the polarization of microwave radiation over the entire sky and was responsible for determining over 71% of the universe is comprised of dark energy, in the form of a cosmological constant.
Furthermore, they discovered the universe had been reionized earlier than experts had believed, and uncovered new evidence to support the theory it had also undergone a dramatic expansion period which saw it increase by more than a trillion trillion-fold in less than one-trillionth of one-trillionth of a second, the US space agency noted.
In August, Bennett and the rest of the WMAP science team -- Chris Barnes, Rachel Bean, Olivier DorÃ©, Joanna Dunkley, Benjamin M. Gold, Michael Greason, Mark Halpern, Robert Hill, Gary F. Hinshaw, Norman Jarosik, Alan Kogut, Eiichiro Komatsu, David Larson, Michele Limon, Stephan S. Meyer, Michael R. Nolta, Nils Odegard, Lyman Page, Hiranya V. Peiris, Kendrick Smith, David N. Spergel, Greg S. Tucker, Licia Verde, Janet L. Weiland, Edward Wollack, and Edward L. (Ned) Wright -- were presented with the Gruber Foundation´s 2012 Cosmology Prize.
"WMAP observations form the cornerstone of the standard model of cosmology," Hinshaw, who is affiliated with the University of British Columbia, said. "Other data are consistent and when combined we now know precise values for the history, composition, and geometry of the universe."
"The last word from WMAP marks the end of the beginning in our quest to understand the Universe," added Adam G. Riess, who, like Bennett, is an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins and who was one of the recipients of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work discovering dark energy. "WMAP has brought precision to cosmology and the Universe will never be the same."