News from the Frontiers of Cosmology: A companion to the book The Edge of Physics
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courtesy NASA

courtesy NASA

AFTER 9 years of staring into space and mapping the cosmic microwave background, WMAP has finally called it a day (or night).

NASA has terminated the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe’s extraordinary mission. The probe, which was orbiting around Lagrangian Point 2 (L2) for all these years, fired its thrusters and entered into permanent orbit around the Sun. L2 is a million miles from Earth, and is a point where the gravitational forces of the Earth and the Sun balance out in a way that any spacecraft in orbit around L2 has to expend very little energy to do so.

WMAP mapped the cosmic microwave background, the radiation that comes to us from when the universe was a mere 370,000 years old, with unprecedented precision.

Some WMAP highlights:

  • Was the first spacecraft to operate from Lagrangian Point 2
  • Established that the age of the universe is 13.75 billion years
  • Established that about 72 per cent of the universe is made of dark energy and 23 per cent of it is made of dark matter
  • Provided the first solid support of the idea that the universe expanded exponentially fractions of a second after the big bang, an episode called inflation

The baton has now been handed over to the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, which is already in orbit around L2, and is continuing to map the CMB with greater precision.

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