“Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:” — Isa 40:21–22
According to most astrophysicists, the Universe has been expanding since the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. Then, about the time the Earth was formed, that expansion got FASTER.
Since the time of Edwin Hubble, cosmologists have believed the Universe to be inflating, speeding into the nothingness to make it somethingness. They expected that eventually gravity would pull the mass of the Universe back in toward itself, and the expansion would slow down, possibly collapsing back in on itself. In 1998, three supernova experts presented data that shocked the world of astronomers and physicists alike. In 2011, Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering what is believed to be the accelerating expansion of the Universe. The Universe isn’t getting slower in its race into the void, they concluded; it’s speeding up.
It goes back to supernovae. A type Ia supernova is a super compact white dwarf star in a binary system with a red giant. Material from the red star is pulled onto the white dwarf until the highly dense star reaches a mass limit of about 1.4 solar masses (1.4 times the mass of our sun) and in a runaway thermonuclear reaction it just explodes. Because they blow up under the same conditions, type Ia supernovae reach about the same brightness each time, which means they can be used as “standard candles” for measuring distance. The brighter the supernovae, the closer the supernovae.
There are other independent ways of measuring supernova distance as well, but Ia supernova at the same distances should be about the same brightness when they explode. So when Perlmutter, Schmidt, and Riess noticed dimmer-than-expected supernovae, they were puzzled. They told the world in 1998, “Um… these supernovae we’re seeing aren’t bright enough for their distances. Something’s odd here.”
Perlmutter on one team, and Schmidt and Riess on another, independently found some 50 distant supernovae whose light reached Earth more weakly than anticipated. The scientists were expecting the expansion of the Universe to be slowing down, causing the supernovae to appear brighter. Instead, the light from the supernovae was fading. They concluded that the exploding stars had been carried away through space at an ever increasing velocity, along with the rest of their galaxies. In other words, it appeared that the Universe was accelerating.
Then, in 2001, a supernovae 10 billion light years away – the farthest ever observed – once again disrupted expectations because it was determined to be too bright. This indicated that when that particular supernova exploded, the Universe was still slowing down..
“Long ago, when the light left this distant supernova, the Universe appears to have been slowing down due to the mutual tug of all the mass in the Universe,” said Riess in 2001. “Billions of years later, when the light left more recent supernovae, the Universe had begun accelerating, stretching the expanse between galaxies and making objects in them appear dimmer.”
What? How could that even work?
Newtonian physics requires that in order for a mass to increase in velocity, force has to be added to it according to the equation F=ma. Force equals mass times acceleration. What could have happened that would have suddenly forced the Universe to expand more quickly? (Or make it appear as though it were expanding faster?)
Right now, the culprit is called “dark energy.” It’s not a super villain, a cosmological nemesis of the superhero Quasar Man. No. It’s just energy nobody can see. Or prove directly. Astrophysicists have no clue what dark energy might be or what causes it, but its most important characteristic is its negative pressure evenly distributed in space. Dark energy supposedly accounts for 73 percent of the total energy density of the entire Universe. “Dark matter” accounts for another 23 percent, and boring matter made of regular old atoms we can detect makes up just 4 percent of the energy density.
Of course, dark energy and dark matter are hypothetical. They are used to try to explain the data astronomers have been collecting, but nobody has any good answers. Saul Perlmutter writes, “The dark energy evinced by the accelerating cosmic expansion grants us almost no clues to its identity. Its tiny density and its feeble interactions presumably preclude identification in the laboratory. By construction, of course, it does affect the expansion rate of the Universe, and different dark-energy models imply different expansion rates in different epochs. So we must hunt for the fingerprints of dark energy in the fine details of the history of cosmic expansion.”
Perlmutter states we cannot detect dark energy on Earth, presumably because of its “feeble” interactions, and yet it has the power to force galaxies to move at increasing rates through the cosmos?
It may be that astrophysicists need to revamp their models. Perhaps they’ve missed something. Something important.
The idea that the Universe is expanding it largely based on the red shift—the fact that light from deep in space shifts to the red. The same way that a motorcycle sounds deeper as it zooms away from us, the red waves—the longest waves of light—that reach us from supernovae cause most astronomers to assume that the sources of light are moving away from us. However, William Tifft in 1976 determined that the red shift was quantized, not continuous. If it were caused by stars moving away at high speeds, it should be continuous, not bundled in little packages. In the 1980s, Guthrie and Napier at the Edinburgh Observatory spent ten years challenging this view, and confirmed that Tifft was correct. There is also the potential that the speed of light has been slowing down, which we have touched on in previous articles [see the links below].
At the same time, the term “stretching the heavens” appears at least 17 times in the Scriptures. According to the Scriptures, the heavens can be “torn” (Isa 64:1); “worn out” like a garment (Ps 102:25) “shaken” (Heb 12:26; Hag 2:6; Isa 13:13); “burnt up” (2 Pet 3:12); “split apart” like a scroll (Rev 6:14); “rolled up” like a mantle (Heb 1:12); or a scroll (Isa 34:4) “Rolled up?”
How can all the data best be reconciled? The astronomers and physicists and child prodigies are still working on it. In the meanwhile, we congratulate the Nobel Prize in Physics winners and their dedicated hard work in trying to hammer out the mysteries of the Universe.
- Supernovae, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Universe – Saul Perlmutter
- Written In The Stars – NobelPrize.com
- Type Ia Supernova Cosmology with ADEPT – John Hopkins
- Faster Than The Speed Of LIght – Koinonia House
- History Of The Light Speed Debate – Koinonia House
- A Supernova Sheds Light On Dark Energy (2001) – NASA