Astronomers have wrested with the size and shape of the universe for centuries until Belgian priest and physicist Georges Lemaître proposed the Big Bang Theory in the 1920s. According to the groundbreaking idea, the universe is expanding in all directions at once and could potentially be traced back to a single point.
Shortly after, American astronomer Edwin Hubble made the first observations of this expansion by finding galaxies near and far were racing away from us.
Hubble discovered the most distant galaxies were flying more quickly, proving the assumptions made a few years earlier by Lemaître.
Together, the scientists gave birth to the Hubble-Lemaître law and the Hubble Constant (H0), which approximates the rate of expansion.
The Hubble Constant proposed the universe is growing at a rate of about 70km per second per megaparsec (Mpc) or, in other words, the universe is expanding 70km per second faster for every 3.26 million light-years.
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But in the years since the discovery, astronomers have clashed over two conflicting methods by which the expansion can be calculated.
The two independent methods yield results that are off by about 10 percent and leave no room for statistical error.
Theoretical physicists at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) have now prosed a solution to the cosmic conundrum and have laid out their findings today (March 10) in the journal Physics Letters B.
According to Lucas Lombriser, assistant professor in the Theoretical Physics Department, Faculty of Sciences, a vast chunk of the universe exists in a cosmic “bubble” of sorts that has skewed past calculations.
This bubble extends by about 250 million light-years across and contains the Milky Way and a few thousands of our nearest galaxies.
The matter within this bubble is believed to be at least half as large as the rest of the universe.
This is not a theoreticians’ fantasy
Lucas Lombriser, University of Geneva
Professor Lombriser said: “If we were in a kind of gigantic ‘bubble’ where the density of matter was significantly lower than the known density of the universe, it would have consequences on the distances of supernovae and, ultimately, on determining H0.”
Astronomers calculate the rate of expansion by studying cosmic background radiation – evidence of the Big Bang – and by studying distant supernovas – monstrous eruptions of dying stars.
But using the first method with the aid of the European Planck space probe and Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, astronomers have most recently found the universe is expanding at about 67.4km per second per Mpc.
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Supernova observations, however, have proposed a faster Hubble Constant of about 74km per second per Mpc.
Professor Lombriser said: “These two values carried on becoming more precise for many years while remaining different from each other.
“It didn’t take much more to spark a scientific controversy and even arouse the exciting hope that we were perhaps dealing with a ‘new physics’.”
Professor Lombriser and his colleagues have proposed the distribution of matter throughout the universe has an impact on the Hubble Constant.
If our slice of the cosmos exits within a “Hubble Bubble” the density of matter within it is about 50 percent lower than the rest of the universe.
The difference is enough to support the Hubble Constant obtained through comic background microwaves.
Professor Lombriser said: “The probability that there is such a fluctuation on this scale is one in 20 to one in five, which means that this is not a theoreticians’ fantasy.
“There are a lot of regions like ours in the vast universe.”
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