Archive for Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe

WMAP wins the 2018 Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on December 4, 2017 by telescoper

It’s very nice on a gloomy Monday morning to be able to share some exciting news and to congratulate so many friends and colleagues, for last night the 2018 Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics was awarded to the team who worked on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The citation reads:

For detailed maps of the early universe that greatly improved our knowledge of the evolution of the cosmos and the fluctuations that seeded the formation of galaxies.

The award, which is for the sizeable sum of $3 Million, will be shared among the 27 members of the WMAP team whose names I list here in full (team leaders are in italics):

Chris Barnes; Rachel Bean; Charles Bennett; Olivier Doré; Joanna Dunkley,;Benjamin M. Gold; Michael Greason; Mark Halpern; Robert Hill, Gary F. Hinshaw, Norman Jarosik, Alan Kogut, Eiichiro Komatsu, David Larson, Michele Limon, Stephan S. Meyer, Michael R. Nolta, Nils Odegard, Lyman Page, Hiranya V. Peiris, Kendrick Smith, David N. Spergel, Greg S. Tucker, Licia Verde, Janet L. Weiland, Edward Wollack, and Edward L. (Ned) Wright.

I know quite a few of these people personally, including Hiranya, Licia, Eiichiro, Joanna, Olivier and Ned, so it’s a special pleasure to congratulate them – and the other members of the team – on this well-deserved award.

Don’t spend all the money in the same shop!



Why the Universe is (probably) not rotating

Posted in Cosmic Anomalies, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2013 by telescoper

Just a quick post to point you towards a nice blog post by Jason McEwen entitled Is the Universe rotating? It’s a general rule that if  an article has a question for a title then the answer to that question is probably “no”, and “probably no” is indeed the answer in this case.

The item relates to a paper by McEwen et al whose abstract is given here:

We perform a definitive analysis of Bianchi VII_h cosmologies with WMAP observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) temperature anisotropies. Bayesian analysis techniques are developed to study anisotropic cosmologies using full-sky and partial-sky, masked CMB temperature data. We apply these techniques to analyse the full-sky internal linear combination (ILC) map and a partial-sky, masked W-band map of WMAP 9-year observations. In addition to the physically motivated Bianchi VII_h model, we examine phenomenological models considered in previous studies, in which the Bianchi VII_h parameters are decoupled from the standard cosmological parameters. In the two phenomenological models considered, Bayes factors of 1.7 and 1.1 units of log-evidence favouring a Bianchi component are found in full-sky ILC data. The corresponding best-fit Bianchi maps recovered are similar for both phenomenological models and are very close to those found in previous studies using earlier WMAP data releases. However, no evidence for a phenomenological Bianchi component is found in the partial-sky W-band data. In the physical Bianchi VII_h model we find no evidence for a Bianchi component: WMAP data thus do not favour Bianchi VII_h cosmologies over the standard Lambda Cold Dark Matter (LCDM) cosmology. It is not possible to discount Bianchi VII_h cosmologies in favour of LCDM completely, but we are able to constrain the vorticity of physical Bianchi VII_h cosmologies at $(\omega/H)_0 < 8.6 \times 10^{-10}$ with 95% confidence.

For non-experts the Bianchi cosmologies are based on exact solutions of Einstein’s equations for general relativity which obey the condition that they are spatially homogeneous but not necessarily isotropic. If you find that concept hard to understand, imagine a universe which looks the same everywhere but which is pervaded by a uniform magnetic field: that would be homogeneous (because every place is identical) but anisotropic (because there is a preferred direction – along the magnetic field lines). Another example of would be s a universe which is, for reasons known only to itself, rotating; the preferred direction here is the axis of rotation. The complete classification of all Bianchi space-times is discussed here. I also mentioned them and showed some pictures on this blog here.

As Jason’s post explains, observations of the cosmic microwave background by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) suggest  that there is something a little bit fishy about it: it seems to be have an anomalous large-scale asymmetry not expected in the standard cosmology. These suggestions seem to be confirmed by Planck, though the type of analysis done for WMAP has not yet been performed for Planck. The paper mentioned above investigates whether the WMAP asymmetry could be accounted for by one particular Bianchi cosmology, i.e. Bianchi VII_h. This is quite a complicated model which has negative spatial curvature, rotation (vorticity) and shear; formally speaking, it is the most general Bianchi model of any type that includes the standard Friedmann cosmology as a special case.

The question whether such a complicated model actually provides a better fit to the data than the much simpler standard model is one naturally answered by Bayesian techniques that trade off the increased complexity of a more sophisticated model  against the improvement in goodness-of-fit achieved by having more free parameters.  Using this approach McEwen et al. showed that, in simple  terms, while a slight improvement in fit is indeed gained by adding a Bianchi VII_h component to the model,  the penalty paid in terms of increased complexity means that the alternative model is not significantly more probable than the simple one. Ockham’s Razor strikes again! Although this argument does not definitively exclude the possibility that the Universe is rotating, it does put limits on how much rotation there can be. It also excludes one possible explanation of the  peculiar pattern  of the temperature fluctuations seen by WMAP.

So what does cause the anomalous behaviour of the cosmic microwave background?

I have no idea.

WMAP: The Last Judgement

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by telescoper

It seems the the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or rather the estimable team of people working on it, have produced yet another set of maps and key results. I believe this will be the final release from WMAP. The paper is on the arXiv here and it represents a synthesis of no less than nine years of measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation:

Here’s the abstract:

We present the final nine-year maps and basic results from the WMAP mission. We provide new nine-year full sky temperature maps that were processed to reduce the asymmetry of the effective beams. Temperature and polarization sky maps are examined to separate CMB anisotropy from foreground emission, and both types of signals are analyzed in detail. The WMAP mission has resulted in a highly constrained LCDM cosmological model with precise and accurate parameters in agreement with a host of other cosmological measurements. When WMAP data are combined with finer scale CMB, baryon acoustic oscillation, and Hubble constant measurements, we find that Big Bang nucleosynthesis is well supported and there is no compelling evidence for a non-standard number of neutrino species (3.26+/-0.35). The model fit also implies that the age of the universe is 13.772+/-0.059 Gyr, and the fit Hubble constant is H0 = 69.32+/-0.80 km/s/Mpc. Inflation is also supported: the fluctuations are adiabatic, with Gaussian random phases; the detection of a deviation of the scalar spectral index from unity reported earlier by WMAP now has high statistical significance (n_s = 0.9608+/-0.0080); and the universe is close to flat/Euclidean, Omega_k = -0.0027 (+0.0039/-0.0038). Overall, the WMAP mission has resulted in a reduction of the cosmological parameter volume by a factor of 68,000 for the standard six-parameter LCDM model, based on CMB data alone. For a model including tensors, the allowed seven-parameter volume has been reduced by a factor 117,000. Other cosmological observations are in accord with the CMB predictions, and the combined data reduces the cosmological parameter volume even further. With no significant anomalies and an adequate goodness-of-fit, the inflationary flat LCDM model and its precise and accurate parameters rooted in WMAP data stands as the standard model of cosmology.

The main reason for posting this is to acknowledge the remarkable impact WMAP has had on the field of cosmology. The standard model does indeed account for most available cosmological data extremely well. I’m not entirely sure about the “no significant anomalies” bit in the last sentence, in fact, but I won’t argue with it as it depends entirely upon what you mean by significant. It’s not exactly proven that the fluctuations have “random phases” either. We’ll just have to see whether data from Planck, due to be released next year, will reveal evidence of any physics beyond the standard framework WMAP did so much to establish.