Using data from a satellite telescope a million miles from Earth, scientists at the European Space Agency have pieced together an "amazing" photograph of the the entire universe. (Click here to download a larger version of the image.) Here's a brief guide:
What can you see in the image?
Essentially, this would be your view of the night sky if your eyes were sensitive to light from very long wavelengths — say, microwave radiation — and you could somehow see the sky from every angle on earth at the same time. The bright line running horizontally across the center of the image is the main disc of the Milky Way, in which our own sun and Earth reside. The other shapes represent galaxies, clouds of dust and gas, and background radiation spread out across the full expanse of space and time.
So essentially I'm seeing all the stars in the universe?
Not in the sense that we usually "see" them. Rather than showing the visible light emitted by the stars, the image shows the presence of dust and gases — which, in turn, make up stars. The flamelike blue clouds are actually flares of cold dust reaching deep into space.
What about the yellow and magenta section in the background?
This is the "cosmic microwave background" (CMB), sometimes known as the "first light." This energy dates back to the earliest moments of universe, immediately after the the Big Bang.
How does the Planck telescope work?
The orbiting telescope has ultra-sensitive detectors that read various types of radiation from across the cold — just a fraction of a degree above absolute zero — depths of space. It swept the sky in circular patterns over the course of many months to assemble a complete picture of the cosmos.
What else will the Planck do?
This is actually the first of four planned maps of outer space set to be created by the Planck telescope over the next three years.
The photo seems kind of small to be the whole universe ...
The image has been manipulated to make it more easily understandable. "The image itself is color-enhanced," said Dr. Jan Tauber, project scientist for the European Space Agency. "We have also reduced the resolution of the image to something which is more manageable for people to look at. Otherwise it would just be too big."