Jan 7, 2021 - Science

Scientists find the universe is 13.77 billion years old

Nearly 10,000 galaxies seen by the Hubble Space Telescope

Nearly 10,000 galaxies seen in one part of the sky by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

The universe is 13.77 billion years old, according to a new measurement taken using a powerful telescope in Chile.

Why it matters: The precise age of the universe is an important factor for scientists trying to understand the evolution and expansion of the cosmos.

What they found: The Atacama Cosmology Telescope made the measurement by looking at fluctuations in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), the glow left behind after the Big Bang formed the universe.

  • Researchers used the telescope to effectively create a triangle in the sky, measuring distances between the Earth and two points of interest in the CMB and then extrapolate the distance between the two points.
  • Because the universe is expanding, measuring distances gives scientists a sense for how quickly that change is occurring and therefore the age of the universe.
  • The new research is detailed in a study published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

The big picture: Scientists have been mired in a debate about how fast the universe is actually expanding — a number known as the Hubble Constant.

  • Dating the universe to 13.77 billion years is in line with the age of the universe previously estimated using data from the Planck satellite, but other methods that measure the distances between stars have dated the universe as significantly younger.
  • "Now we've come up with an answer where Planck and ACT [Atacama Cosmology Telescope] agree," Simone Aiola an author of the study, said in a statement. "It speaks to the fact that these difficult measurements are reliable."

What's next: Scientists are continuing to gather data and double check their analyses in an attempt to resolve the Hubble Constant conflict.

  • "The growing tension between these distant versus local measurements of the Hubble constant suggests that we may be on the verge of a new discovery in cosmology that could change our understanding of how the Universe works," Michael Niemack, an author of the study said in the statement.
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