Our Universe Just Got a Whole Lot Bigger

Our Universe Just Got a Whole Lot Bigger[1]

Hubble Deep Field View of Universe (NASA.gov)

The more information we get, the more it becomes clear: The universe may be vastly larger than we ever imagined. Astronomers recently announced there may be 10 times more galaxies than previously counted by any observatory, whether ground-based or in space.

Found at the edge of visible space, the strange infant galaxies formed just after a period known as the Epoch of Reionization.  At this time, neutral hydrogen reverted to an ionized form and created a clear diffuse universe instead of a haze around everything. These galaxies are believed to be the catalyst for the change.

Prior to this cloudy universal haze, none of the first objects in our early universe could be seen. The researchers used 3-D modeling of the Hubble Deep Field images to build a good estimate of the number of galaxies across time in the universe. Using these numbers, Chris Conselice of the University of Nottingham and his team further extrapolated that 90 percent of all the galaxies out there have yet to be seen.

The Epoch of Reionization is hard to study, but astronomers are trying several ways to witness it in action. Some, like the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array, try to tune in to the faint radio signals from this era. But NASA is banking on the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope to peer into these boundaries with unprecedented precision.

For now, we’ll have to be content knowing that the universe is bigger than we anticipated with any previous model.

[1] “Our Universe Just Got a Whole Lot Bigger,” in Astronomy (45, 2, February 2017, p. 16)

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