If you haven’t heard that Planck has seen first light, you haven’t been reading the right cosmology blogs: see Andrew Jaffe, Peter Coles, and Planck’s own Twitter feed. Planck is of course the European Space Agency’s microwave background satellite experiment, which was launched back in May. Since then it’s been tumbling in space about once every minute, doing a leisurely scan of the sky. The survey is not nearly completed, but all systems seem to be running smoothly.
Here’s the region it’s looked at so far, superimposed over a visual-light map of the Milky Way:
And here’s a zoom in on one region, as seen in two different wavelengths:
So far the scientists are playing with the data to learn about the instrument, not so much about the microwave background. Andrew predicts a big splash of papers from Planck in August 2012. We’ll be looking for a bunch of things: Are the overall features of the CMB consistent with predictions from inflation? Are there “non-Gaussian” features indicating extra power in some regions? Is the strength of the perturbations equal on all scales, or does it gradually diminish at smaller distances? Did we learn anything surprising from the polarization, such as tensor modes that could come from inflation or an overall rotation that could come from quintessence? Does the universe have a preferred direction?
I’m sure it will be front-page news, whatever that news turns out to be. Stay tuned.