Big Bang's afterglow reveals older universe, more matter

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The universe has hidden its age well. The European Space Agency's Planck space telescope has scanned the skies for the Big Bang's fingerprint and discovered that the universe is about 100 million years older than thought, and that there's more normal matter and dark matter filling the cosmos.

Findings the ESA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced Thursday peg the universe's age at 13.8 billion years, and produced a multicolored map showing the tiny temperature fluctuations that reveal the seeds of the universe's future structure.

"It might look a little bit like a dirty rugby ball or a piece of modern art," the ESA's George Efstathiou, a Cambridge University astrophysicist, said in a news conference Thursday. "But I can assure you there are cosmologists who would have hacked our computers, or maybe even given up their children, to get hold of a copy of this map."

The Planck mission is a successor to NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and the Cosmic Background Explorer, and it takes this snapshot of the early universe's afterglow to unprecedented clarity.

The map represents the first 151/2 months of observation by the Planck space telescope, which looked at the universe's cosmic microwave background -- that extremely cold, barely noticeable glow left after the Big Bang when the universe was just a cosmic baby -- about 380,000 years old.

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