Jumbled Thoughts - 21 Mar 2013

The cosmic microwave background.  The patterns visible here would eventually become the structure of the universe as we see it today.  (Image credit: NASA)

Jumbled Thoughts covers all the little stuff which doesn't merit its own post. Anything goes!

Voyager 1 must be the busiest spacecraft in history - I'm pretty sure it has left the solar system half a dozen times over the last few years.  The American Geophysical Union is the latest body to claim that we've sent our first object into interstellar space, but NASA mission scientists continue to place it within the confines of our solar system.  The edge of the solar system is traditionally defined as the point where the winds of charged particles emitted from nearby stars become more powerful than the solar wind of our Sun.  It once seemed like a pretty clear-cut definition, but it has turned out to be much trickier than that.  The boundary region appears to be a turbulent place, making a definitive statement about the direction of particles and magnetic fields a tricky one.

I think it's really cool that a group funded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has successfully raised one of the Apollo 11 rocket engines from kilometers below the surface of the ocean.  The Saturn V is the most powerful rocket ever built  and the only engine capable of lifting astronauts to the Moon.  It's a unique piece of history that I look forward to seeing in a museum someday soon.

Feeling older?  You're not the only one.  The universe now appears to be as much as 100 million years older than previously thought.  The European Space Agency's Planck spacecraft has produced the most detailed yet map of the cosmic microwave background and it places the universe at a cool 13.82 billion years old.  The cosmic microwave background is the remnant of the first light emitted in the universe just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang.  Since we can only study the universe by observing the light it emits, the cosmic microwave background is our farthest look back at the formation of the cosmos.  Small irregularities in the light hint at processes which occurred shortly after the Big Bang.  It's from these tiny deviations that we think our stars, galaxies, and, eventually, planets, formed.  Exciting stuff if you're a cosmologist.  Or anyone, really!