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Universe - 13.7 billion years old.
Michael Benson, author of Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (read universe Today's review) took some time from his busy schedule, and nasty cold, to answer some of our questions about his book and interest in astronomy and space exploration. Benson was interviewed by Mark Mortimer.
New data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope shows that a previously discovered extrasolar gas giant which has oxygen and carbon in its atmosphere evaporating at a tremendous rate. The planet - officially called HD 209458; unofficially "Osiris" - orbits its star at only 7 million km and has created an extended ellipse of material around the star. This discovery has caused Astronomers to propose a new kind of object called a cthonian: the dead cores of Gas giants which have been stripped of their atmosphere.
Astronomers made news in early 2003 with a precise measurement for the Age of the universe - 13.7 billion years - using data from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite. But new research from the University of Durham indicates that our view into the past might be skewed by clusters of Galaxies which seem to be in regions where the microwave energy is lower. It's possible that hot gas in the Galaxy clusters is interfering with photons from the Big Bang, and has corrupted the microwave map of the sky. These results may undermine theories about how the early universe was dominated by Dark matter and dark energy.
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