New images from the Planck mission show previously undiscovered islands of star formation and a mysterious haze of microwave emissions in our Milky Way galaxy.
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The views give scientists new treasures to mine and take them closer to understanding the secrets of our galaxy. Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant NASA participation. The new images show the entire sky, dominated by the murky band of our Milky Way galaxy. One of them shows the unexplained haze of microwave light previously hinted at in measurements by NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The second all-sky image is the first map to show carbon monoxide over the whole sky. Cold clouds with forming stars are predominantly made of hydrogen molecules, difficult to detect because they do not readily emit radiation. Carbon monoxide forms under similar conditions, and though it is rarer, the gas emits more light. Astronomers can use carbon monoxide to identify the clouds of hydrogen where stars are born. Surveys of carbon monoxide undertaken with radio telescopes on the ground are time-consuming, so they are limited to portions of the sky where clouds of molecules are already known or expected to exist. Planck scans the whole sky, allowing astronomers to detect the gas where they weren’t expecting to find it. Planck’s primary goal is to observe the Cosmic Microwave Background, the relic radiation from the Big Bang, and to extract its encoded information about what our universe is made of, and the origin of its structure. This relic radiation can only be reached once all sources of foreground emission, such as the galactic haze and the carbon monoxide signals, have been identified and removed. Planck’s first findings on the Big Bang’s relic radiation are expected to be released in 2013.