The universe is expanding faster than it is used, which means it is about a billion years younger than we think, says a new study by the Nobel Prize winner. And it sends out disdain through the world of physics, making astronomers re-think of some of the most basic concepts.
It is a number called the Hubble-Constant, a calculation of how fast the universe is spreading. Some scientists call it the most important number in cosmology, the study of the origin and development of the universe.
Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, John Ryan's astronomer Adam Rhys, concluded in an astrophysical newspaper this week that the figure is nine percent higher than the previous calculation, which is based on the study of the remains of the Big Bang.
The problem is, Riess and others think that the two calculations are correct.
Confused? That's fine, so are the experts.
They believe that the conflict is so confusing that they say they come with "new physics", incorporating perhaps some more discovered particles or other cosmic factors "catching" like dark energy or dark matter.
"It's more and more looks like we need something new to explain this," said Rice, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.
The NASA astrophysicist, another Nobel Prize winner, John Meder, said this leaves two obvious options: "One: we make mistakes that we can not find. Two: nature has something we can not find."
Even with the discovery, life continues on Earth as it always has. But for astrophysicists who are trying to cope with our place in this expanded universe, this is cosmic concern.
"Everyone wants to look younger"
To arrive at his measurement of the permanent Hubble, Riss looked at some not so distant stars.
Rice observed 70 Cepheid stars-stars that pulsate at a well-observed rate-calculated their distance and velocity, and then compared them with a certain type of supernovae used as measuring sticks. It takes about two years for the Hubble telescope to make these measurements, but in the end, Rice calculated an expansion rate of 74.
It is an exciting journey to try to understand what the origins of the universe are.– Wendy Friedman
Using that figure of 74, the universe is somewhere between 12.5 billion and 13 billion years. It is much younger than estimated estimates of 13.6 billion to 13.8 billion.
"Hey, that's good news. Everybody wants to look younger," said Reese.
In 2013, European Planck-satellite helped scientists come up with a much slower expansion of about 67, but this was done in a completely different, more complex and less direct way, and by looking at much earlier times when the universe was just a child.
Planck's team studied the background radiation of only 370,000 years after Great Ben. By examining the cold and hot spots in that radiation, the scientists realized how large the sites were, which helped them determine how far they watched.
That team then feeds these calculations into the standard model that astronomers use for the universe – based on Einstein's general relativity, among other things – factorized in the known acceleration of the universe and resulted in a smaller expansion rate. The ultimate result: the universe of 13.8 billion years.
Riess has calculated the odds that the difference between the two counts is an accident of 1 per 100,000.
Factory factors and "turbulence"
While there is a chance that the team of Ries or Planck's team is off, astronomers are talking about whether both are right.
The two calculations make sense and "no one can find anything bad at this time," said the distinguished astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Wendy Friedman. Other outside experts praised the research of both teams.
If so, astrophysicists should make corrections in Einstein's general relativity theory.
"We need to add something to the universe that we do not know about," said Chris Burns, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institute of Science. "It always makes you uncomfortable."
In the past, astronomers added heavy dark energy and dark matter to explain why calculations are not added, borrowing from Einstein's ever-rejected theory. Now they say they need to do something similar.
It could be an additional "turbulent" from the past strange pulse of dark energy – an unseen expansive force that fits well into Einstein's theories – which has caused rapid expansion, said Reese.
Or there may be a new particle of matter that has not been discovered, Burns said.
"We have this gloomy sector that already has two ingredients, and maybe we discover a third," said Planck's team member, Lloyd Knox of California University, Davis. "It's a frightening perspective. Will we always introduce the falsified factors?"
Astronomers at the University of Chicago, led by Freudman, spent five years searching for different stars from Rice to reach a third calculation of the rate of expansion. They only submitted their work in the same magazine. Friedman did not want to reveal his number, but said he was among the two other people.
Twenty years ago, Friedman was part of a similar debate about the Hubble constant, when there were several measurements to work.
"It is an exciting journey to try to understand what the origins of the universe are," she said.