The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) in the afterglow of the Big Bang. Why would this cluster of galaxies punch a hole in it? The CMB flows right through most of the gas and dust in the universe. It is all around us. However, large clusters of galaxies have enough gravity to contain gas hot enough to up-scatter the CMB photons into light of significantly higher energy, creating “holes” in the CMB. This is known as the Sunyaev–Zel’dovich (SZ) effect, and it’s used for decades to study the hot gas in clusters. This picture combines CMB data from ESO’s ALMA with imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the galaxies in the massive galaxy cluster RX J1347.5-1145. False-color blue shows light from the CMB; almost every yellow object is a galaxy. The shape of the SZ hole indicates not only that hot gas is present in this galaxy cluster, but also that it is distributed in a surprisingly uneven manner.
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) was a NASA Explorer mission that made fundamental measurements of cosmology—the study of the properties of our universe as a whole.
The structure of the universe evolved from the Big Bang, as represented by WMAP’s “baby picture” of the Cosmic Microwave Background (the afterglow of the Big Bang), through the clumping and ignition of matter, and continuing up to the present. This video condenses that almost 14 billion year history into 45 seconds.
This is a map of oldest light in our universe. It is derived from data detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. The ancient photons, also called the cosmic microwave background, give us a view of the universe when it was about 370,000 years old. The variations are related to the tiny temperature fluctuations caused by regions of slightly different densities—the seeds of all the future structure of the Universe—the stars, galaxies, and life existing today.
Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant participation from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
This image of the microwave sky was synthesized using data spanning the range of cosmic background radiation detected by ESA’s Planck satellite. These frequencies, which cannot be seen with the human eye, cover the range of 30 to 857 gigahertz.
The grainy structure of the cosmic microwave background is clearly visible in the high-latitude regions of the map. The tiny temperature fluctuations are the result of the density variations from which the structure of the universe originated.