Spherical universe: Everything we know about the cosmos may be wrong after new evidence suggests flat theory may be wrong
According to the latest observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat but experts say more research is needed to prove that the findings are not a fluke.
The universe may not be flat. Instead, scientists think it may be curved, more like an inflated balloon. The study, published in Nature Astronomy, contradicts the idea that the universe is flat, a model that has the stamp of approval from most scientists. But the possibility of a curved universe complicates our understanding of it. What is more, some experts believe that the latest 'anomalous' findings could be a fluke.
These findings can be traced back to the telescope at the Planck Observatory. The authors of the study, Alessandro Melchiorri at the Sapienza University of Rome and his colleagues, used the telescope to hunt for remnants of the big bang explosion: the cosmic microwave light. More specifically, they used the telescope to gauge how much of the microwave light had been bent or “gravitationally lensed." This happens when the gravitational pull from objects in the universe distorts or bends the light that passes through it.
After analyzing their data, they found that their results were incompatible with the flat universe model: they saw a high amount of strongly bent light. In other words, they found more gravitational lensing than expected, predicting that the universe could be curved or closed.
According to these observations, the universe is 41 times more likely to be closed than flat. “This is the most precise cosmological data and it is giving us a different picture", Melchiorri told NewScientist.
The authors say these findings throw up a cosmological puzzle that makes it even harder to make sense of how the universe is expanding. The universe seems to be expanding faster than it ought to be, which cannot be explained by the flat universe model. But this gets even tougher with a spherical universe. It is so bad that the research team is calling it a “cosmological crisis."
The spherical universe further confounds the understanding of the universe's early stages. Just after the big bang, scientists believe there was a period called inflation when the universe rapidly expanded. The current models of inflation support the possibility of a flat universe, so if the universe is actually closed, the model would have to change. “We need a new model, and we don’t know what that is yet”, Melchiorri told NewScientist.
The anomalous study is up for debate among scientists. The observation could very well be an anomaly, according to David Spergel at Princeton University. He adds, "More data in the next few years will show whether we need to take this anomaly seriously or if it is simply a statistical fluke."
“Given the other measurements. The clearest interpretation of this behavior of the Planck data is that it’s a statistical fluctuation. Maybe it’s caused by some slight inaccuracy in the Planck analysis, or maybe it’s completely just noise fluctuations or random chance. But either way, there’s not really a reason to take this closed model seriously.” Graeme Addison, a cosmologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Quanta Magazine.