21 March: Planck Day


The microwave sky as seen by Planck. Most of the signal originates in the Milky Way, the faint CMB pattern can be seen in the background.

A big day for science today, as at last we’ll find out some of the first cosmology results from the Planck telescope. Planck was launched together with the Herschel Space Telescope back in 2009, to perform an all-sky survey at microwave wavelengths. The survey will produce – or rather, has now produced – the most detailed and sensitive map of the Cosmic Microwave Background to date.

The CMB is essentially flat and constant all over the sky, but on closer (much closer) inspection, small fluctuations become visible. These tiny fluctuations, at the level of 1 part in 100,000 or so, are thought to be the precursors to the large scale structures we see today in the Universe – from the largest Galaxy clusters to individual stars.

Looking for and studying signals this faint is very involved and challenging work – a lot of foreground signal originating in our own Galaxy or those in the vast Universe around us have to be accounted for and removed. These “noise” was released to the community some time ago, so the rest of us could play around with the data for our menial star formation or galaxy clustering research. The Planck consortium have chosen not to release the real goodies, the cosmological results, until they felt confident about the results – which is apparently today. The level of “lockdown” and secrecy surrounding these results is quite unprecedented in astronomy as far as I know, and I’ve talked with many people who don’t agree with their chosen policy. “Open science” it definitely isn’t – but if anything, it’s a good way to ensure that your results will make a big splash on their release. However you feel about  the road the mission leaders chose, these scientists deserve their moment in the spotlight. I look forward to seeing the exciting new results!

ESA is hosting a media briefing at 10 am this morning, and an open session will take place from 14:00 to 15:45 (CET) this afternoon. You can watch it live on ESA’s webpage, here.

RB Editor’s Selections: Planck Appetisers, CSI-style Imaging, Maths Education and Risk, and Hungry Black Holes

Sarah Kendrew Sarah Kendrew selects interesting and notable ResearchBlogging.org posts in the physical sciences, chemistry, engineering, computer science, geosciences and mathematics. She blogs about astronomy at One Small Step.

[cross-posted from ResearchBlogging.org News]

Exciting new science has a habit of getting published when I’m on holiday – so it was no surprise to come back from a refreshing week in the mountains to some awesome new stuff in the journals and on ResearchBlogging. Here are some picks from the physical sciences categories.

  • First Planck results: The Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect. Scientist working on data from European cosmic microwave background mission Planck published 25 new papers to the Arxiv last Wednesday with a first batch of results from the satellite. It’s a lot to digest, and thankfully some of the papers are being discussed online to provide us with digested reads and comment. On The Eternal Universe, Joseph Smidt talks about Planck’s observations of galaxy clusters using the Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect; I agree that these results bode extremely well for the bulk of the science we can expect from Planck in 2013.
  • Computer-enhanced imaging with almost perfect resolution. We astronomers spend a lot of time figuring out how to extract information from noisy images, and I’m always curious about the clever methods scientists in other fields develop for this purpose. In All That Matters, Joerg Heber describes an interesting technique developed by Israeli optical scientists to reconstruct images to the sub-wavelength resolution level from imperfect images.
  • Does mathematical training increase our risk tolerance? The critical assessment of risk is one of the most important skills we can learn from our maths lessons at school. It’s a little counter-intuitive then to learn, via Evolving Economics, that maths education appears to change our innate perception of numbers, potentially leading to a higher tolerance to risk.
  • Black holes are not fed by colliding galaxies after all. The co-evolution of galaxies and their black holes throughout the history of the Universe is one of the hottest topics in astrophysics at the moment. On Basic Space, Kelly Oakes discusses newly published research challenging a popular theory behind the triggering of black hole activity. This paper has received quite a bit of attention on blogs, see also the discussion on Science and Reason.

I’ll be back next week with more selections. Thanks for the great posts!

Blogging holiday

Bit of a holiday, back in a few weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy the first all-sky map released from cosmic microwave background satellite Planck!

APOD: Cold dust, Hot image

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is this stunning image of a section of the Galaxy as seen at far-infrared wavelengths. The high-resolution parts come from the recently launched Planck satellite, the rest from the older infrared satellite IRAS. The bright material shown in the image is very cold gas and dust, whose radiation peaks at these long infrared wavelengths.

Image: ESA, Planck HFI Consortium, IRAS

First light for Planck

First images from Planck, overlaid on an optical image of the galactic plane

The European Space Agency yesterday released first light images from its cosmic microwave background experiment, Planck. Planck was launched together with infrared observatory Herschel in May, and these first data show that the little satellite is in excellent working order.

[Read more…]