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The Universe May Be Expanding Faster Than Predicted

(Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Frattare (STScI)
(Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Frattare (STScI)

The universe is expanding faster than previously believed; the surprising discovery will test Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which has stood the test of time, so far.

The Hubble Space Telescope has made measuring the distances to stars more accurate than ever before. The team of astronomers made the discovery while refining the measurement of how fast the universe is expanding, a value called the Hubble constant, reducing the uncertainty to only 2.4 percent.

The team, led by Nobel Laureate Adam Riess from the Space Telescope Science Institute, discovered the universe is expanding between five and nine percent faster than what had been previously calculated. A consequence of this could be that the universe ends up ripping itself apart.

(Image: NASA,ESA, A. Feild (STScI), and A. Riess (STScI/JHU))

(Image: NASA,ESA, A. Feild (STScI), and A. Riess (STScI/JHU)

If confirmed, the discrepancy could mean either the measurement of cosmic microwave background radiation is wrong, or that there is some kind of unknown physical phenomenon that is speeding up the expansion of space. Alex Filippenko, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy and co-author of the paper said:

One possible explanation is a new type of subatomic particle (perhaps the hypothesized fourth flavor of neutrino) that may have changed the balance of energy in the early universe, so called dark radiation (which accelerates the expansion of the universe). Or perhaps Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the basis for the Standard Model, is slightly wrong. Riess explained in a statement:

According to ESA: “This refined determination of the Hubble constant was made possible by making precise measurements of the distances to both nearby and faraway galaxies using Hubble. The improved distance measurements were made by streamlining and strengthening the cosmic distance ladder, which astronomers use to measure accurate distances to galaxies.

The researchers used the Hubble Space telescope to look at variable stars called Cepheids, and Type Ia supernovae, both of which have well known brightness enabling their distance to be accurately determined. Over two and a half years the team then measured the movements of around 2,400 Cepheid stars and about 300 Type Ia supernovae.

Cepheid variable stars in this spiral galaxy, known as UGC 9391, and a Type Ia supernova (not visible in this image) were used by a team of astronomers to calculate the expansion rate of the modern Universe.

Cepheid variable stars in this spiral galaxy, known as UGC 9391, and a Type Ia supernova (not visible in this image) were used by a team of astronomers to calculate the expansion rate of the modern Universe. (Image: NASA, ESA, and L. Frattare (STScI)

It was from these measurements they were able to calculate the universe’s expansion rate (the Hubble constant), to be 73.2 kilometers per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is 3.26 million light-years). Using this new value, the distance between objects will double in 9.8 billion years.

Even though it will not affect us in the near future, there will be some serious repercussions for the universe in time. Australian researcher and ANU astrophysicist Dr. Brad Tucker told Business Insider:

 

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