We’ve all lost track of time at one point or another, but astronomers really go all in. Recent studies show they may have overestimated the age of the universe by more than a billion years — a surprising realization that is forcing them to rethink key parts of the scientific story of how we got from the Big Bang to today.
The lost time is especially vexing because, in a universe full of mysteries, its age has been viewed as one of the few near-certainties. By 2013, the European Planck space telescope’s detailed measurements of cosmic radiation seemed to have yielded the final answer: 13.8 billion years old. All that was left to do was to verify that number using independent observations of bright stars in other galaxies.
Then came an unexpected turn of events.
A few teams, including one led by Nobel laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, set out to make those observations. Instead of confirming Planck’s measurements, they started getting a distinctly different result.
“It was getting to the point where we say, ‘Wait a second, we’re not passing this test — we’re failing the test!'” says Riess, co-author of a new paper about the research to be published in Astrophysical Journal.
He estimates that his results, taken at face value, indicate a universe that is only 12.5 billion to 13 billion years old.