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Age of universe — implications?

Imagine a survey where you ask “How old is the universe?” as a multiple choice question:

  • 1,000’s of years
  • 100,000’s of years
  • Millions of years
  • Billions of years
  • Other _______________

What would you expect as a result? Quite a mix?

Well, among scientists this question is essentially settled, as indicated in some Space.com articles.

How Old is the Universe?” (June 7, 2017) reviews the methods in determining an age. Key concepts are models of stellar evolution and the Big Bang, since scientific estimates of the age of the universe consider its age as the time elapsed since the Big Bang.

The universe cannot be younger than the objects contained inside of it. By determining the ages of the oldest stars, scientists are able to put a limit on the age.

The uncertainty still creates a limit to the age of the universe; it must be at least 11 billion years old. It can be older, but not younger.

The universe we live in is not flat and unchanging, but constantly expanding. If the expansion rate is known, scientists can work backwards to determine the universe’s age, … Thus, finding the expansion rate of the universe — a number known as the Hubble constant — is key.

Our Expanding Universe: Age, History & Other Facts” (June 16, 2017) summarizes cosmic history since the Big Bang.

The universe is currently estimated at roughly 13.8 billion years old, give or take 130 million years. In comparison, the solar system is only about 4.6 billion years old.

This estimate came from measuring the composition of matter and energy density in the universe. This allowed researchers to compute how fast the universe expanded in the past. With that knowledge, they could turn the clock back and extrapolate when the Big Bang happened. The time between then and now is the age of the universe.

So, as Wiki notes:

The current measurement of the age of the universe is 13.799±0.021 billion (109) years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model.

What if you don’t agree with this scientific consensus? Are there any implications?  Any personal, social, national, or global consequences of other beliefs? Is there impact on public policies, particularly those related to scientific and technological advancement?1

The topic of the age of the Earth will explore such consequences in another post.

 

[1] Regarding implications, Carl Sagan wrote:

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. Which attitude is better geared for our long-term survival? Which gives us more leverage on our future? — Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

And as Shawn Otto writes:

The ideological front of the war on science is being waged by religious conservatives in three major battle zones, all of which deal with origins: the nature and age of Earth and the universe, the theory of evolution, and the origin and nature of life and reproduction. Our answers to these three questions lie at the center of physical science, biology, and the health sciences, and of our capacity to make effective policy decisions in education, economic competitiveness, and public health. — Otto, Shawn Lawrence (2016-06-07). The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It (Kindle Locations 4321-4324). Milkweed Editions. Kindle Edition.

5 thoughts on “Age of universe — implications?

  1. As Carl Sagan noted:

    To discover that the Universe is some 8 to 15 billion and not 6 to 12 thousand years old* improves our appreciation of its sweep and grandeur; to entertain the notion that we are a particularly complex arrangement of atoms, and not some breath of divinity, at the very least enhances our respect for atoms; to discover, as now seems probable, that our planet is one of billions of other worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy and that our galaxy is one of billions more, majestically expands the arena of what is possible; to find that our ancestors were also the ancestors of apes ties us to the rest of life and makes possible important—if occasionally rueful—reflections on human nature.

    * “No thinking religious person believes this. Old hat,” writes one of the referees of this book. But many “scientific creationists” not only believe it, but are making increasingly aggressive and successful efforts to have it taught in the schools, museums, zoos, and textbooks. Why? Because adding up the “begats,” the ages of patriarchs and others in the Bible, gives such a figure, and the Bible is “inerrant.” — Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

  2. Since finding the expansion rate of the cosmos is key to determining the age of the universe, I found this recent Space.com article interesting: “Does Dark Energy Exist?

    Two competing teams, using different telescopes, different datasets and different methodologies, were independently coming to the same conclusion. Our universe wasn’t slowing down, but speeding up.

    They published their work almost 20 years ago. In the meantime, after several independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion, they shared in a Nobel Prize for their unexpected discovery.

    The name for that observed phenomenon — dark energy — sticks with us today, but we still don’t understand it. We don’t know why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, but we do know that it does accelerate.

    [Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist at The Ohio State University and the chief scientist at COSI Science Center. Sutter is also host of Ask a Spaceman, We Don’t Planet, and COSI Science Now. Sutter contributed this article to Space.com’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.]

  3. Pondering an expanding universe billions of years old tends to raise the question of our place in the cosmos — of both the Earth and our species.1 This July 27, 2017, Space.com article “Why Looking for Aliens Is Good for Society (Even If There Aren’t Any)” addresses some implications of that perspective: “a sense of deep, or big, history.”

    It is simply not possible to consider searching for life on Mars, or on a planet orbiting a distant star, without moving away from the narrow Earth-centric perspectives that dominate the social and political lives of most people most of the time. Today, the Earth is faced with global challenges that can only be met by increased international cooperation. Yet around the world, nationalistic and religious ideologies are acting to fragment humanity. At such a time, the growth of a unifying cosmic perspective is potentially of enormous importance.

    In the early years of the space age, the then US ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, said of the world: “We can never again be a squabbling band of nations before the awful majesty of outer space.” Unfortunately, this perspective is yet to sink deeply into the popular consciousness. On the other hand, the wide public interest in the search for life elsewhere means that astrobiology can act as a powerful educational vehicle for the popularisation of this perspective.

    [1] As noted in another Space.com article:

    We orbit a typical star, in a typical spiral galaxy, in a typical branch of a typical supercluster. Our planet and its evolutionary leap to intelligent beings could’ve occurred in any old spot around the cosmos and we ought to have come to the same conclusions about the big science questions: the Big Bang, dark energy, the cosmic web, the works.

  4. Over the weekend, I started reading some books1 by Lawrence Krauss. So, I learned about The Origins Project.

    By casting a sharp lens on the origins of the universe, life, disease and complex social systems, the Origins Project develops new knowledge and inspires the public on fundamental questions that are at the heart of the 21st Century’s greatest challenges.

    [1]

    • Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science (2011), Norton and Co.
    • A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (2012), Atria Books
    • The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far: Why Are We Here? (2017), Atria Books
  5. Today Space.com posted an article “WMAP Team Wins $3 Million Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics” (12-4-2017) summarizing two “big science” projects which contributed to measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) and determination of the age of the universe.

    Those folks worked on NASA’s WMAP space mission [Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe], which was awarded the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics today (Dec. 3) during a ceremony in Palo Alto, California.

    From 2001 to 2009, WMAP mapped the cosmic microwave background (CMB) — the light left over from the Big Bang — with unprecedented precision. This work allowed scientists to nail down the age of the universe (about 13.8 billion years), its rate of accelerating expansion (roughly 70 kilometers per second per megaparsec) and its basic composition (about 5 percent “normal” matter, 24 percent dark matter and 71 percent dark energy).

    “I see the legacy as establishing the standard model and making cosmology quantitative,” Spergel told Space.com. “There have been improvements in the measurements since WMAP, but I think we provided a very solid base that the field is building on.”

    Those improvements were provided largely by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft, which mapped the CMB from 2009 to 2013. Planck’s data have reinforced and refined, rather than challenged, the WMAP results.

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