This spring, the Planck spacecraft, currently orbiting over 1.5 million km (900,000 miles) from Earth, provided the most precise images yet of our early universe. By measuring small fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)—radiation released by the Big Bang just 380,000 years after the universe formed—Planck pinned down the fractions of ordinary and dark matter, and dark energy in the universe. Further analysis of its data will confirm or rule out many theories of inflation during the earliest fractions of a second after the Big Bang.
The Space Show production team at the American Museum of Natural History wasted no time in incorporating this late-breaking data into the new Space Show, Dark Universe, which opens on November 2.
This concept cartoon illustrates a scene from the Space Show, called “Journey to Planck,” that depicts the satellite’s flight after it was launched by the European Space Agency in May 2009. As sketched out early in the show’s production process by the director, Carter Emmart, who is also the Museum’s Director of Astrovisualization, Planck is shown orbiting around the second Lagrangian Point, or L2 – where gravitational forces and a body’s orbital motions are balanced and allow Planck a stable perch for deep space observation as well as clear communication with Earth. (This virtual point has been home to other spacecrafts, including NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, which provided the first high-precision image of the CMB in 2003.)
While in orbit Planck makes one revolution per minute around its axis to stabilize and to collect data from at least 95 percent of the sky. Instruments aboard the spacecraft measuring both high and low frequencies are able to detect nine different wavelength bands. Focusing on temperature fluctuations of the CMB with an accuracy of a few millionths of a degree, Planck gives scientists clues about how matter was distributed in the early universe just after the Big Bang.
Dark Universe will feature this exciting new data in authentic, dramatic visualizations, bringing viewers to the front lines of cosmic discovery.
Image Credit: ©AMNH/C.Emmart