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Planck by Planck

The upcoming ESA mission will study the cosmic microwave background radiation for clues about the dawn of time

Editor's note: This story was originally posted April 11. The mission successfully launched May 14.

Pssst!  Want to see the birth of the universe?

Astronomers say it’s not a scam. The launch of the European Space Agency’s Planck mission, set for May 6, will put into orbit a new tool —the microwave equivalent of polarized sunglasses — that may offer a view of the dawn of time.

Before the first galaxies, before the first stars, there was light —the brilliant glow of radiation created during the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. The remnant of that ancient light, now cooled by the expansion of the universe to a frigid 2.7 kelvins, is known as the cosmic microwave background. Instruments on the Planck craft will explore this radiation in exquisite and unprecedented detail.

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