We May Have "Misunderstood the Universe," Nobel Prize Winner Says



For a long time, scientists believed they understood how fast the universe is growing — but the more they learn, those theories seem to be expanding as fast as the universe itself.

Basically, the "Hubble constant" measures the speed at which the universe is expanding. The only problem? Different instruments keep providing different values for it, giving rise to what's known as the "Hubble tension."

It raises an interesting possibility: that, as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Adam Riess explains in a NASA blog, much of what we thought we knew about the universe may have been wrong.

"We’ve now spanned the whole range of what Hubble observed, and we can rule out a measurement error as the cause of the Hubble tension with very high confidence," the Johns Hopkins physicist said.

Pointing the Webb telescope deep into the universe to try to confirm Hubble's complicated numbers back in 2023, scientists were puzzled when the newer telescope confirmed the findings of its predecessor, deepening the discrepancy.

One possibility for the surprising reders could be stellar crowding, which occurs when space telescopes see more stars than they are able to handle, might affect expansion measurements as the light from them essentially warps their vision. Stellar dust makes this effect even stronger, but as NASA explains, the Webb should be able to cut through the noise and get more accurate imaging and distance measurements.

As Reiss speculates, there may be something greater going on than the numbers not adding up.

"With measurement errors negated," he told NASA, "what remains is the real and exciting possibility we have misunderstood the universe."

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