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Concept Animations > Universe Fingerprint

Top Image from Universe Evolution animation: Birth of the First Stars

Middle Image from Universe Evolution animation: Expansion of Space

Bottom Image from Universe Evolution animation: WMAP Looks Back Through Time

Universe Fingerprint

How do we know the size, age and composition of the Universe?

The answer to this question is like making an artificial fingerprint to match the real one. We make a computer model of the early universe, then feed it millions of variations to the ingredients until we have a model that looks like what WMAP has measured.

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) measures the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) - light that is a direct remnant of the Big Bang. This light was emitted by hydrogen gas 375,000 years after the Big Bang, before stars and galaxies formed.

The CMB light shows tiny variations in the early gas density (1 in 100,000). This pattern is like a fingerprint. It is unique to the amount of the ingredients making up our universe. The "ripples" of microwave light are shaped by sound waves in the hydrogen gas. The sound waves are shaped by the Matter and Density of the universe. From the size of the temperature "ripples" that create the sky pattern, scientists can compute a unique signature called the "Power Spectrum". This provides the information needed to calculate the age, shape, and composition of our universe.

Credit: NASA / WMAP Science Team

Duration: 30.0 seconds

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  • Page Updated: Friday, 12-21-2012
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