22 March 13

A Universe of One

Yesterday I noticed on Twitter that #Planck was trending. I knew by that time what this was about, but was still surprised to see the name of the great early-twentieth century physicist having moments of social media fame. What had happened yesterday was that there was a press conference announcing the release of data from the Planck satellite mission to map the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation with ultrahigh precision. Universe is a teeny bit older than thought reads this story on Science News. Cosmologists have much to tackle ahead of them with this new data, so a few folks will be kept busy for years here.

Here’s the bit that most intrigued me from the Science News story: “Planck also found several features that surprised scientists. Most notably, it reaffirms a quirky WMAP finding that one half of the sky seems to have more fluctuations than the other. Theory predicts the universe should look the same in all directions. “ (WMAP was an earlier space mission, the second one, to produce a map of the CMB.) So this portrait of the universe at an early age is not random in all directions. Anyway, I am bothered by a statistical puzzle. We have a sample size of one — just one universe to look at here. There’s no population against which we can make a statistical test. So how can we possibly distinguish between this anisotropy being the remnant of some oddball random fluctuation during the early inflation of the universe, or the case where there’s undiscovered physics going on here?

Not that I know much at all about cosmology! At any rate I’m in one of my phases where I’m extremely interested in astronomy. I think this all started a couple months ago when Pica was knitting herself a Celestarium shawl.

Posted by at 09:47 PM in Astronomy | Link |

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