POLITICS

Data collected by Planck space probe helps scientists zero in on origin of universe

03/21/2013 06:23 EDT | Updated 05/21/2013 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - A Canadian expert says data collected by Planck, a European Space Agency probe, are helping to support a theory about the origin of the universe.

"We think we're zeroing in on a theory which describes where everything came from," Prof. Douglas Scott said in an interview Thursday.

The $900-million Planck space telescope has been surveying the sky since it was launched in 2009.

Scott, a University of British Columbia professor, leads the Canadian research team that analyzed the data.

Other team members were from the University of Toronto, University of Alberta, Universite Laval and McGill University.

The findings by Planck, released Thursday in Paris, bolster one key theory called "Inflation", which tries to explain some nagging problems left over from the Big Bang, which formed the universe in a sudden burst.

The Big Bang — the most comprehensive theory of the universe's beginning — says the visible portion of the universe was smaller than an atom when, in a split second, it exploded, cooled and expanded faster than the speed of light.

"So if Inflation is right, it explains essentially where everything comes from," Scott added.

Based on the data collected by Planck, it's also been calculated that the universe is 13.8 billion years old — at least 80 million and possibly 100 million years older than earlier estimates.

"The fact that we can measure it so precisely means we really understand the model of how the whole universe works," Scott said. "That's an astonishing thing."

The new map indicated that the universe is also expanding more slowly and that there is more matter than was known before.

Scott said it would have been impossible a generation ago to believe the very earliest stages in the history of the universe could be understood.

The professor of cosmology added that scientists are a lot closer today than they were a generation ago.

"It's been fantastic for Canadian scientists to work on," Scott said.

"We're completely engaged in this huge international effort to really figure out what the universe is made of and where it came from, so we're very excited."

The Canadian Space Agency said in a statement that Planck's data "confirm and refine previous models of how astronomers believe the universe originated and evolved."

The probe was named for the German physicist Max Planck, the originator of quantum physics.

The Planck spacecraft is expected to keep transmitting data until late 2013, when it runs out of cooling fluid.

— With files from The Associated Press