Hubble sparks cosmic crisis

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The Independent Online
The Universe is in crisis - official. Astronomers have come to the conclusion that it appears be younger than some of the stars it contains, a contradiction that may prove fatal to the theory that everything began in a cosmic explosion.

Latest measurements from the Hubble space telescope suggest the Universe may be 8 billion years old, about half the age suggested by cosmologists who have argued that the Universe came into existence with the Big Bang about 16 billion years ago.

Astronomers using the Hubble telescope have discovered that the universe is expanding a lot faster than had been thought under the Big Bang theory. They deduce that it is also apparently younger than some of the stars in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which appear to be up to nearly 16 billion years old.

The seeming impossibility of the stars being older than the Universe could only be explained if either the estimates of the ages of the stars are wrong or the Big Bang theory is incorrect. A third possibility is that there is some unexplained force accelerating the expansion of the Universe faster than scientists had hitherto thought possible.

This crisis for cosmology appears in the current issue of the scientific journal Nature. The international team of astronomers, which includes Dr Shaun Hughes from the Royal Greenwich Observatory, note with remarkable understatement: 'This 'age conflict' suggests that either the standard cosmological model needs to be revised, or present theories on stellar and galactic evolution may need to be re- examined.'

But a commentary on the result also published in the journal today is headed simply: 'The Universe in crisis'. George Jacoby, a cosmologist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, Arisona, writes: 'We live in a special time; after millenia of not knowing the size and age of our Universe, we soon will. We also live in a time of crisis, for we may be forced to accept something new about the ages of the stars and nature of the Universe.'

The research centred on measurements of the rate at which the Universe is expanding after the Big Bang.