Two physicists at the University of Southern Mississippi – Lawrence Mead and Harry Ringermacher – announced today (June 26, 2015) that our universe might not only be expanding outward from the Big Bang, but also oscillating or “ringing” at the same time. The Astronomical Journal published their paper on this topic in April.
As many know, scientists today believe our universe – all space, time and matter – began with the Big Bang some 13 billion years ago. Since then, the universe has been expanding to the size it is today. Yet, the universe as a whole has self-gravity, which tries to pull all the matter – all the stars, gas, galaxies, and mysterious dark matter – back together. This internal gravitational pull slows down the universe’s expansion. Mead said in a statement from Southern Miss:
The new finding suggests that the universe has slowed down and speeded up, not just once, but 7 times in the last 13.8 billion years, on average emulating dark matter in the process.
The ringing has been decaying and is now very small – much like striking a crystal glass and hearing it ring down.
The artist’s illustration at the top of this post illustrates the new finding. According to Ringermacher and Mead, the wave amplitude in this illustration is highly exaggerated, but the frequency is roughly correct according to their study and their understanding of the way in which the universe oscillates or “rings.”
Ringermacher and Mead said they’ve determined that this oscillation is not a wave moving through the universe, such as a gravitational wave, but rather it is a “wave of the universe.” That is the universe as a whole is doing it.
Compare the illustration at top to the artist’s illustration below, which represents the current model of the universe (notice: no oscillation).
Ringermacher said he and Mead made their discovery accidentally when, through their collaboration on dark matter modeling of galaxies, they found a new way of plotting a classic textbook graph describing the scale of the universe against its age (lookback time) that did not depend on one’s prior choice of models of the universe – as was traditional. He said:
The standard graph, the Hubble diagram, is constructed by astronomers observing the distances of Type 1A Supernovae that serve as ‘standard candles’ for measuring the expansion of the universe.
Analyzing this new plot to locate the transition time of the universe, we found there was more than one such time – in fact multiple oscillations with a frequency of about 7 cycles over the lifetime of the universe.
It is space itself that has been speeding up its expansion followed by slowing down 7 times since creation.
Mead and Ringermacher say this finding must ultimately be verified by independent analyses, preferably of new supernovae data, to confirm its reality. In the meantime, their work into the “ringing” of the universe continues.
To learn more about Ringermacher and Mead’s research, visit Ringermacher’s website.
Bottom line: Two physicists say the universe’s expansion has sped up, then slowed down, 7 times since time began. They describe this oscillation as the universe “ringing.”
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.