This is a full-sky shot of the universe's long wavelength light courtesy of the European Space Association's Planck telescope. This image reveals ancient cosmic microwave background radiation and the dust and gas that are the building blocks of stars.

Today, the ESA revealed the image, which was taken over a six-month period and contains large swaths of the Milky Way. Here's what you're looking at:

The main disc of our Galaxy runs across the centre of the image. Immediately striking are the streamers of cold dust reaching above and below the Milky Way. This galactic web is where new stars are being formed, and Planck has found many locations where individual stars are edging toward birth or just beginning their cycle of development.

Less spectacular but perhaps more intriguing is the mottled backdrop at the top and bottom. This is the ‘cosmic microwave background radiation' (CMBR). It is the oldest light in the Universe, the remains of the fireball out of which our Universe sprang into existence 13.7 billion years ago.

As impressive as this is, the Planck researchers advise not looking too deeply into this image just yet. ESA project scientist Dr. Jan Tauber notes that the ESA still needs to analyze and assess its astronomical implications:


The CMB is certainly visible but the image itself is colour-enhanced so you couldn't do any science with that [...] 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.

[ESA and BBC via Slashdot]