PIA18916: Polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background
 Mission:  Planck
 Product Size:  2400 x 1200 pixels (w x h)
 Produced By:  European Space Agency (ESA)
 Full-Res TIFF:  PIA18916.tif (8.643 MB)
 Full-Res JPEG:  PIA18916.jpg (439.6 kB)

Click on the image above to download a moderately sized image in JPEG format (possibly reduced in size from original)

Original Caption Released with Image:

A visualization of the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, as detected by ESA's Planck satellite over the entire sky.

The CMB is a snapshot of the oldest light in our Universe, imprinted on the sky when the Universe was just 380 000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure: the stars and galaxies of today.

A small fraction of the CMB is polarized -- it vibrates in a preferred direction. This is a result of the last encounter of this light with electrons, just before starting its cosmic journey. For this reason, the polarization of the CMB retains information about the distribution of matter in the early Universe, and its pattern on the sky follows that of the tiny fluctuations observed in the temperature of the CMB.

In this image, the color scale represents temperature differences in the CMB, while the texture indicates the direction of the polarized light. The patterns seen in the texture are characteristic of 'E-mode' polarization, which is the dominant type for the CMB.

For the sake of illustration, both data sets have been filtered to show mostly the signal detected on scales around 5 on the sky. However, fluctuations in both the CMB temperature and polarization are present and were observed by Planck on much smaller angular scales, too.

Planck is a European Space Agency mission, with significant participation from NASA. NASA's Planck Project Office is based at JPL. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for both of Planck's science instruments. European, Canadian and U.S. Planck scientists work together to analyze the Planck data.

More information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/planck, http://planck.caltech.edu and http://www.esa.int/planck.

Image Credit:
ESA/Planck Collaboration

Image Addition Date:
2015-02-05