Unbeknownst to most of us, our universe is constantly expanding. Cosmologists—scientists that study the development of the universe—can determine how it changes over time by visualizing very distant radiation left over from the Big Bang that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. Because light travels at a constant speed, viewing distant objects in space allows them to be seen as they were when the universe first began. Using this technique, cosmologists predict that while the universe first expanded quite quickly after the Big Bang, this expansion later slowed due to the appearance of the mysterious force known as dark matter.
Using a new technique, cosmologists from the University of California, Davis have now determined that the universe is expanding faster than the original models predicted. In their study, the researchers utilized the Keck Observatory telescope in Hawaii, which is equipped with special lenses that measure the way light gets distorted by space objects as it travels towards Earth. After pointing it at three very active galaxies deep in space, the telescope collected multiple distorted images of the galaxies that corresponded to different points in time. By comparing these images, the cosmologists determined that the universe is expanding approximately 9% faster than the rate predicted by conventional models.
Although it is not uncommon for experimental data to challenge theoretical models, scientists must carefully rule out possible causes of error before accepting provocative conclusions. This study is strengthened by the fact that the results corroborate those obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope, a widely trusted instrument in the cosmology field. The unique optical properties of the Keck Observatory telescope now open up the possibility of using additional lens to generate even more accurate data. If future results hold up, cosmologists will be tasked with unraveling why the discrepancy between the theoretical and experimental data exists. Some have suggested that this study may usher in an era of ‘new physics’, as a currently unidentified energy or particle may be behind the rapid expansion of the universe.
Managing Correspondent: Benjamin Andreone
News Article: A crisis in cosmology: New data suggests the universe expanding more rapidly than believed. Phys.org
Original Article: A SHARP view of H0LiCOW: H0 from three time-delay gravitational lens systems with adaptive optics imaging. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Image Credit: Pixabay