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The heavens declare …

Planck satellite
Model of the Planck satellite. Photo: Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net).

Images of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite have cosmologists reeling, as the data don't match expectations from current inflationary theories of the origin of the universe. The puzzle is that, across the whole sky, the signal from the CMB is much weaker than expected.

Another surprise is that there is a lack of symmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky, which contradicts the current formation theory's prediction that the universe should be broadly similar in any direction we look. What's more, a cold spot extends over a patch of sky that is much larger than expected.

However, perhaps the researchers should not have been so surprised, as there were already indicators of this asymmetry and the cold spot from NASA's earlier WMAP mission. But these had been largely ignored "because of lingering doubts about their cosmic origin." As Paolo Natoli of the University of Ferrara, Italy, has now admitted, "The fact that Planck has made such a significant detection of these anomalies erases any doubts about their reality; it can no longer be said that they are artefacts of the measurements. They are real and we have to look for a credible explanation."

Jan Tauber, ESA's Planck Project Scientist, similarly observed that the anomalies are "intriguing features that force us to rethink some of our basic assumptions", and which might well require "new physics" in order to be understood.?

? Planck reveals an almost perfect universe, esa.int, 21 March 2013.

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