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Evidence for 'Big Bang' Seen

By Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

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March 16, 2006 — Astronomers have for the first time penetrated the fog of the earliest universe and caught sight of it as a tiny marble-sized infant, just one-trillionth-of-a-second-old.

The remarkable view comes from the best-ever picture of early light, seen in the form of faint microwaves, unveiled today, and confirms the inflationary "Big Bang" theory of how the universe began, as well as why galaxies exist.

"We have new evidence that the universe went from microscopic to astronomical in the wink of an eye," announced Charles Bennett, principal investigator for the space-borne Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) and a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

To get this new view into the past, WMAP researchers first had to counteract the effects of 13.7 billion years on the light from the infant universe. That meant measuring the thickness and evaluating the light-altering effects of a primordial fog from the early, but post-inflation, universe.

"We now know the thickness of the fog and can see what happened," said Spergel.

That fog filtered and polarized the cosmic microwave background in a way similar to how polarized sunglasses filter out glare. Finally, the team subtracted the polarizing effect — essentially removed the cosmic sunglasses — to look at the original glare of the infant universe. The result is a new, brighter, more detailed image of the so-called cosmic microwave background.

Among the things that the better picture shows is that infinitesimal fluctuations of density inside the marble-sized infant universe inflated right along with everything else when things went instantaneously cosmic 13.7 billion years ago. The density fluctuations make the cosmic microwave background look lumpy.

They are also interesting for more personal reasons, said David Spergel, a WMAP team member at Princeton University.

"These density fluctuations are pretty important to us," Spergel said, "because they grew to be galaxies." And it's because of galaxies that we have stars and planets and places like Earth where life can evolve.

Put another way, the new picture of the infant universe shows that something akin to the quiver of a few electrons served as the seeds for entire galaxies.

"Galaxies are nothing but quantum mechanics writ large across the sky," said astronomer Brian Greene of Columbia University, referring to the physical theory that rules over matter at the atomic scale and may have reigned in universe's first moments.

Greene also points out that the new WMAP image is a giant step forward in the science of cosmology, which up until now has consisted of lots of theoretical models, but suffered from a lack of data to test cull them. "Models can (now) be ruled out," he said.

The new image of the cosmic microwave background is also a giant step closer to seeing "time-zero" — the moment the universe began, said Greene.

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WMAP is still defining the boundaries of cosmology and the new CMB map confirmed inflation theory, nice.

Wonder when they will launch a replacement for WMAP that will be able to confirm if the universe is cyclic or not?

Will probably take a while if Bush stays where he is.

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A theory may always be revised or discarded, something that is harder to do with religion.

...except that man has been heavily revising religion since it's birth. The difference is, science reorganizes facts and re-tests new possibilities, whereas religion gets changed somewhat arbitrarily based upon the whims and wishes of men without fact, just faith.

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