One of the most well known telescopes to ever be launched into space is the Hubble Space Telescope. For decades, it has been a tool used to measure a certain phenomena first observed by the astronomer the telescope was named after. It is used to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding.
The telescope reportedly measured the most precise assessment of our universe’s rate of expansion yet, and it seems to confirm something that has been in the foresight of astronomers for years. That is, the universe seems to be expanding more rapidly than measurements of the cosmic background radiation supposedly indicate it should be. That means either the measurements performed by astronomers and physicists is incorrect, or an unknown factor is influencing the expansion, or perceived expansion.
Galaxies generally become more distant from each other as the universe expands. The most important discoveries in the field of cosmology the last century have seen investigations into how this is happening play a central role in the development of the science. However, a field of science can be usurped by new information.
Assessing the red shift, how much the wavelength of a galaxy’s light has stretched is a precise, modern way to measure the rate at which a galaxy is moving away from us. It is reportedly more difficult to measure the distance, and scientists depend on the brightness of specific stars and supernovas (referred to as “standard candles”), to compare and contrast the brightness with the stars and supernovas functioning as reliable control groups.
Hubble took very precise measurements of some “standard candles” and using the data, a paper is set to be published in The Astrophysical Journal that will report the Hubble constant, measurement of the universe’s rate of expansion, as precisely 42 miles per second per megaparsec, or 67 kilometers.
A problem lies in the data however: the figure is 9 percent larger than the number created by scientists who referenced observations of the scene shortly after the Big Bang, or 378,000 years after it. The basis of this is the Planck satellite’s measurements of cosmic background radiation created around that time. It was processed with models of how this should have changed as the universe expanded.
The Hubble constant had previously been estimated at higher than the Planck data indicated, but uncertainty in the measurements was a factor. Cepheid variables’ brightness were calibrated with new methods, the standard candles used as a kind of control to measure fairly close galaxies, and Hubble lowered its uncertainty range to 2.3 percent.
One of the famous Hubble telescope’s original goals was to get this Hubble constant accurate to within 10 percent. This goes above and beyond the original goal, with remarkable precision.
Reports say that now, the odds of the present and early universe expansions aligning drops to 1 in 5,000, which is a little low to rely on.
Professor Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute said “Both results have been tested multiple ways, so barring a series of unrelated mistakes, it is increasingly likely that this is not a bug but a feature of the universe.” Adam shared a 2011 Nobel Prize in physics because he discovered the universe’s expansion is actually becoming faster, not slowing down. The idea promoted the concept of “dark energy.”
If this info is correct, the laws of physics could change as we know them.
Theories of “dark energy” are now gaining traction: a force pushing the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, is also accelerating itself.
Some even theorize that a currently invisible type of subatomic particle, subservient to gravity but basically immune to the other 3 fundamental forces, is at play.
It’s called a sterile neutrino, and if it exists, it would travel around the speed of light and affect the evolution of the universe.
(Image credit: IFL Science)