Composite image of the universe from the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope. Click on the magnifying glass to enlarge. Photograph: Esa
Giant clouds of interstellar gas and dust light up this panoramic view of the sky recorded by the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope.
The space telescope was launched in May last year on a mission to survey the “cosmic microwave background” – ancient light left over from the big bang.
The bright streak across the middle of the picture is our own galaxy, the Milky Way, viewed edge-on. The intense light comes not from stars but from the radiation released by the dust and gas clouds that stretch between them.
“We are opening the door to an El Dorado where scientists can seek the nuggets that will lead to deeper understanding of how our universe came to be and how it works now. The image itself and its remarkable quality is a tribute to the engineers who built and have operated Planck,” said David Southwood, director of science and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency (Esa).
The blue and white wisps that reach above and below our own galaxy are streamers of cold dust that trace out the “galactic web” where new stars are born.
The speckles at the top and bottom of the image are caused by microwave background radiation, the remnants of the first light that appeared 380,000 years after the big bang flung the universe into being 13.7bn years ago.