OCT 09, 2019 5:06 PM PDT

How Astronomers Determine the Universe's Age

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

The universe is so old and so large that the Earth is but an insignificant speck of dust by comparison. Astronomers are always trying to make sense of the universe by studying it and its contents with high-power space telescopes, and while we’ve learned a lot about it thus far, the fact remains that we still know very little.

Immediately following the Big Bang, the universe began expanding faster than the speed of light. That expansion continues to this very day, and as we drift farther away from the universe’s earliest matter, a particularly intriguing phenomenon called redshift occurs. This is where light emitted by that matter stretches and becomes more visible in the red light spectrum than anything else.

The farther away an object is, the redder it appears to astronomers, and this is one of the things astronomers take into account when attempting to determine just how old the universe is. Based on modern calculations, the universe could be approximately 13.8 billion years old, and this figure is already widely accepted in the scientific community.

But that number could soon change, especially considering the rather intriguing circumstances surrounding a rare, metal-poor star called Methuselah. Based on Methuselah’s evolutionary cycle, it’s estimated to be around 14.5 billion years old. If true, this could throw a serious wrench in our current understanding the universe’s age.

With upcoming observatories such as WFIRST and the James Webb Space Telescope just over the horizon, we just might get the chance to see farther into the living universe and challenge the current 13.8 billion-year theory. These observatories may even shed more light on Methuselah and help astronomers ascertain more about its age.

These are exciting times indeed.

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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