It is no question that the observable universe is big, but how big? Astronomers find themselves lost in a cosmic ocean trying to peer past the purview of an astronomical horizon. Given the limitations of the human eye, scientists must look for alternative methods to see past the cosmic horizon and determine whether or not the universe is spatially infinite. In doing so, a recent study that mapped the distribution of galaxies in the sky gives credence to the view that the observable universe is likely infinite.
While lost in the cosmic ocean, astronomers constructed a map using the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey or the BOSS which, in the long run, would have been a better and overall cooler name for the Hubble Space Telescope. In a three-year long study, the telescope mapped a region of the universe spanning six-billion light-years in space embedded with an estimated 1.2 million galaxies. What makes this study all the more impressive is that the map determined the distance and position of galaxies to an accuracy of one-percent. This is a stupendous feat, given that just twenty years ago, astronomers were bickering about estimates that differed up to 50 percent.
The BOSS maps the structure of the universe by detecting the oscillation of tiny particles known as baryons. Baryons are paradoxically smeared throughout space and time like a wave but are as specific as a particle. The particles were seeded along with the rest of the cosmos in its early stages. Initially, the universe exponentially expanded or “inflated”, spewing the reverberations of baryon particles in every direction like waves in a cosmic ocean. By detecting the baryons, astronomers can utilize the particles as a kind of cosmic ruler to map the distribution of matter in the sky.
The best model of the early universe is known as the theory of inflation and predicts the universe is spatially infinite. The theory of inflation states that the fabric of space and time exponentially expanded quicker than light speed prior to the initial big bang. Afterwords, the universe rapidly conglomerate with a kind of cosmic plasma. The theory of inflation helps explain the distribution of heat or “cosmic microwave background radiation” in the universe. The theory of inflation also predicts that the universe is geometrically flat and part of a much larger universe that is infinite. However, astrophysicists have yet to devise a way to test the theory of inflation and in turn, whether the observable universe is likely infinite.
Mapping the distribution of intergalactic material in the sky can help astronomers determine whether the observable universe is likely infinite. The research was presented at the American Astronomical Society last week. By accurately mapping the distribution of galaxies within a specific region of space, astronomers gain a better understanding about the precise geometry of the cosmos. The researchers reported that their astronomical map suggests the cosmos is fantastically flat which in turn, gives credence to the view that the observable universe is likely infinite. An infinite universe would imply that dark energy is evenly distributed throughout the universe. Dark energy is a repulsive force that increases with distance and what Einstein dubbed as “the biggest blunder of my career.” If the observable universe really is infinite, however, Einstein’s biggest blunder will turn out to be the biggest discovery of some other astronomer’s career.
By Nathan Cranford