New analysis of data from NASA's space satellites has refined the age of the universe to precisely 13.75 billion years, give or take 110 million years.
The results come from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a satellite the space agency launched in 2001 in order to measure obscure elements of cosmology. Using data from WMAP, scientists had measured the time since the big bang at an incredibly precise 13.73 billion years. Now, using the same space-based observatory, the age of the universe has been refined, adding another 20 million years to the total (plus or minus 0.11 billion years).
By more accurately dating the birth date of universe, scientists are better able to gauge the age of ... well, of pretty much everything.
These refinements come from the measurement of slight variations in temperature in the background radiation that fills the universe. But that's not all that WMAP does. Among its many measurements, WMAP is tasked with measuring acoustic oscillations in background radiation and detecting pre-stellar helium.
What else has WMAP been up to? NASA notes the following as the five biggest achievements of the satellite:
1. Mapping the cosmic microwave background radiation (the oldest light in the universe) and producing the first fine-resolution (0.2 degree) full-sky map of the microwave sky.
2. Definitively determining the age of the universe to be 13.75 billion years old to within 1% (0.12 billion years) -- as recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records!
3. Nailing down the curvature of space to within 1% of "flat" Euclidean, improving on the precision of previous measurements by over an order of magnitude.
4. Becoming the "premier baryometer" of the universe with WMAP's precision determination that ordinary atoms (also called baryons) make up only 4.6% of the universe (to within 0.1%)
5. Creating a complete census of the universe to find that dark matter (not made up of atoms) make up 23.3% (to within 1.3%)