“In the far, far future, essentially all matter will have returned to energy. But because of the enormous expansion of space, this energy will be spread so thinly that it will hardly ever convert back to even the lightest particles of matter. Instead, a faint mist of light will fall for eternity through an ever colder and quieter cosmos.” -Brian Greene
It seems like the simplest, most fundamental quantitative question about the expanding Universe of all: how fast is it expanding? Even though it’s been more than 80 years since Hubble’s most career-defining discovery, we still don’t know the answer. In fact, the two main methods we have of measuring it give incompatible results.
The best map of the CMB and the best constraints on dark energy and the Hubble parameter from it. Images credit: ESA & the Planck Collaboration (top); P. A. R. Ade et al., 2014, A&A (bottom).
The largest-scale observations, like the cosmic microwave background and baryon acoustic oscillations, give a result that’s on the low side: 67 km/s/Mpc. On the other hand, distance ladder measurements, relying on individual stars, galaxies and supernovae, give a higher result: 74 km/s/Mpc. But these are known well enough that they’re inconsistent with one another.
Modern measurement tensions from the distance ladder (red) with CMB (green) and BAO (blue) data. Image credit:
“Cosmological implications of baryon acoustic oscillation measurements”, Aubourg, Éric et al. Phys.Rev. D92 (2015) no.12, 123516.