Good news this week from the cosmology desk. Newly published research confirms that the universe is still expanding -- steadily, uniformly and more-or-less right on schedule.
As Trace Dominguez explains in today's mind-bending DNews report, the findings really are comforting. They support bedrock assumptions made in science's standard model of the universe and suggest that, cosmologically speaking, we're on the right track.
The new study, published in Physical Review Letters, measures cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is basically leftover radiation from the Big Bang. By crunching the numbers in very specific ways, scientists can mathematically confirm that the universe is expanding steadily in all directions. That is to say, it isn't stretching in a particular direction or spinning.
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This supports our theory that ours in an isotropic universe. Expansion is consistent, smooth, homogeneous and symmetrical. This idea is further borne out by the Hubble Constant, named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble, which tracks the consistent expansion of the universe by measuring the energy coming off of receding galaxies and stars.
Of course, all of this expansion talk raises the question: What is the universe expanding into? The short answer, and this is the mind-bendy part: It's not expanding into anything, it's just ... expanding. The universe, by definition, is all existing matter and space as a whole. The paradox lies in the fact that space is a three-dimensional region, expanding in a four-dimensional universe, in every direction at once.
It gets very complicated indeed, but the upshot is that if you were to fly in a straight line, faster than the speed of light, directly toward the edge of the universe, you'd eventually end up back where you started -- because there is no edge.
Trace has more details in his report, along with some useful visual aids and helpful metaphors concerning balloons and raisin bread.
-- Glenn McDonald
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