Using 3,000 recently discovered quasars as searchlights on the distant universe, astronomers have mapped with unprecedented precision the distribution of the diffuse gas between galaxies. By combining these measurements with observations of the faint microwave glow of radiation left over from the Big Bang and other cosmological data, the researchers report that they have pinned down the age of the universe to an accuracy 5 times greater than ever before. By their reckoning, the cosmos is 13.6 billion years old, give or take 200 million years.
The findings also uphold a leading model of cosmic evolution known as inflation, says study collaborator Uros Seljak of Princeton University. Inflation posits that the infant universe underwent a brief but enormous