The European Space Agency has released what it says is the first-ever image of the entire universe which will give scientists new insight into how the stars and galaxies form.
The all-sky image, produced by space telescope Planck, can also tell how the universe itself came to life after the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.
The satellite was launched last year by the ESA under a € 600 million project to record the origins of the universe.
While the satellite was sent nearly a million miles into space, the Planck observatory's job was to look at the age, contents and evolution of the cosmos by studying the heat left behind by the Big Bang.
ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, David Southwood, said: “This is the moment that Planck was conceived for.”
“We're not giving the answer. We are opening the door to an Eldorado where scientists can seek the nuggets that will lead to deeper understanding of how our Universe came to be and how it works now,” he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
“Scientific harvest must begin”
“The image itself and its remarkable quality is a tribute to the engineers who built and have operated Planck. Now the scientific harvest must begin.”
From the closest portions of the Milky Way to the furthest reaches of space and time, the new all-sky image, for which Planck took six months, is an extraordinary treasure chest of new data for astronomers, the scientists said.
The main disc of our Milky Way Galaxy runs across the centre of the image. Immediately striking are the streamers of cold dust reaching above and below the Milky Way.
This galactic web is where new stars are being formed, and Planck has found many locations where individual stars are edging toward birth or just beginning their cycle of development, the report said.
Less spectacular but perhaps more intriguing is the mottled backdrop at the top and bottom. This is the “cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR),” the scientists said.
The CMBR covers the entire sky but most of it is hidden in this image by the Milky Way's emission, which must be digitally removed from the final data in order to see the microwave background in its entirety.
When this work is completed, Planck will show us the most precise picture of the microwave background ever obtained, the ESA said.
The different colours represent minute differences in the temperature and density of matter across the sky. Somehow these small irregularities evolved into denser regions that became the galaxies of today.
Planck will continue to map the Universe and will produce four all-sky scans till its mission ends in 2012.