Astronomers Agree on Universe’s Birthday – 13.77 Billion Years Old

Universe Origin Concept

From an observatory high above Chile’s Atacama Desert, astronomers have taken a new look at the oldest light in the universe.

Their observations, plus a bit of cosmic geometry, suggest that the universe is 13.77 billion years old – give or take 40 million years. A Cornell researcher co-authored one of two papers about the findings, which add a fresh twist to an ongoing debate in the astrophysics community.

The new estimate, using data gathered at the National Science Foundation’s Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT), matches the one provided by the standard model of the universe, as well as measurements of the same light made by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, which measured remnants of the Big Bang from 2009 to ’13.

The research was published on December 30, 2020, in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

The lead author of “The Atacama Cosmology Telescope: A Measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background Power Spectra at 98 and 150 GHz” is Steve Choi, NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In 2019, a research team measuring the movements of galaxies calculated that the universe is hundreds of millions of years younger than the Planck team predicted. That discrepancy suggested a new model for the universe might be needed and sparked concerns that one of the sets of measurements might be incorrect.

“Now we’ve come up with an answer where Planck and ACT agree,” said Simone Aiola, a researcher at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics and first author of one of two papers. “It speaks to the fact that these difficult measurements are reliable.”

Reference: “The Atacama Cosmology Telescope: a measurement of the Cosmic Microwave Background power spectra at 98 and 150 GHz” by Steve K. Choi, Matthew Hasselfield, Shuay-Pwu Patty Ho, Brian Koopman, Marius Lungu, Maximilian H. Abitbol, Graeme E. Addison, Peter A. R. Ade, Simone Aiola, David Alonso, Mandana Amiri, Stefania Amodeo, Elio Angile, Jason E. Austermann, Taylor Baildon, Nick Battaglia, James A. Beall, Rachel Bean, Daniel T. Becker, J Richard Bond, Sarah Marie Bruno, Erminia Calabrese, Victoria Calafut, Luis E. Campusano, Felipe Carrero, Grace E. Chesmore, Hsiao-mei Cho, Susan E. Clark, Nicholas F. Cothard, Devin Crichton, Kevin T. Crowley, Omar Darwish, Rahul Datta, Edward V. Denison, Mark J. Devlin, Cody J. Duell, Shannon M. Duff, Adriaan J. Duivenvoorden, Jo Dunkley, Rolando Dünner, Thomas Essinger-Hileman, Max Fankhanel, Simone Ferraro, Anna E. Fox, Brittany Fuzia, Patricio A. Gallardo, Vera Gluscevic, Joseph E. Golec, Emily Grace, Megan Gralla, Yilun Guan, Kirsten Hall, Mark Halpern, Dongwon Han, Peter Hargrave, Shawn Henderson, Brandon Hensley, J. Colin Hill, Gene C. Hilton, Matt Hilton, Adam D. Hincks, Renée Hložek, Johannes Hubmayr, Kevin M. Huffenberger, John P. Hughes, Leopoldo Infante, Kent Irwin, Rebecca Jackson, Jeff Klein, Kenda Knowles, Arthur Kosowsky, Vincent Lakey, Dale Li, Yaqiong Li, Zack Li, Martine Lokken, Thibaut Louis, Amanda MacInnis, Mathew Madhavacheril, Felipe Maldonado, Maya Mallaby-Kay, Danica Marsden, Loïc Maurin, Jeff McMahon, Felipe Menanteau, Kavilan Moodley, Tim Morton, Sigurd Naess, Toshiya Namikawa, Federico Nati, Laura Newburgh, John P. Nibarger, Andrina Nicola, Michael D. Niemack, Michael R. Nolta, John Orlowski-Sherer, Lyman A. Page, Christine G. Pappas, Bruce Partridge, Phumlani Phakathi, Heather Prince, Roberto Puddu, Frank J. Qu, Jesus Rivera, Naomi Robertson, Felipe Rojas, Maria Salatino, Emmanuel Schaan, Alessandro Schillaci, Benjamin L. Schmitt, Neelima Sehgal, Blake D. Sherwin, Carlos Sierra, Jon Sievers, Cristobal Sifon, Precious Sikhosana, Sara Simon, David N. Spergel, Suzanne T. Staggs, Jason Stevens, Emilie Storer, Dhaneshwar D. Sunder, Eric R. Switzer, Ben Thorne, Robert Thornton, Hy Trac, Jesse Treu, Carole Tucker, Leila R. Vale, Alexander Van Engelen, Jeff Van Lanen, Eve M. Vavagiakis, Kasey Wagoner, Yuhan Wang, Jonathan T. Ward, Edward J. Wollack, Zhilei Xu, Fernando Zago and Ningfeng Zhu, 30 December 2020, Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.
DOI: 10.1088/1475-7516/2020/12/045

6 Comments on "Astronomers Agree on Universe’s Birthday – 13.77 Billion Years Old"

  1. Chris ten Den | January 5, 2021 at 8:28 am | Reply

    Yeah, that may be the birth year, but what DAY is it? Can’t have a birthday party without one.

  2. John Campbell | January 5, 2021 at 8:51 am | Reply

    All these experiments show is the distance that electromagnetic energy can travel, measured in light-years. They do not establish the age of the material universe, therefore they do not establish the age of the universe.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | January 6, 2021 at 4:47 pm | Reply

      That sounds like a creationist repeating the old, rejected “tired light” hypothesis – the superstition interest would be to deny the facts of all the many independent but agreeing ways we observe the universe age and that conversely “tired light” doesn’t work [ ].

      “Zwicky himself acknowledged that any sort of scattering of light would blur the images of distant objects more than what is seen. Additionally, the surface brightness of galaxies evolving with time, time dilation of cosmological sources, and a thermal spectrum of the cosmic microwave background have been observed — these effects should not be present if the cosmological redshift was due to any tired light scattering mechanism.”

      That is a dead “tired” ex-idea, pinin’ for the fjords – it is no more.

  3. Yeah, 13.77 sounds about right. 🙂 I think ultimately, they have no clue.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | January 6, 2021 at 4:49 pm | Reply

      Yet the article show that they have clues, including seeing a tension in methods that else agrees within 10 %.

      In science facts becomes better knowable when they are part of a theory – ad hoc facts can be wrong, as part of theories less likely so. I don’t think this is a quibble with definitions as much as a quibble with how science works.

      The observations of the current age of the universe is about as good – parts of percent – as the observations of the age of the solar system despite the latter being dated by isochron (U-Pb) methods, the theory is self consistent and the dates are consistent with the dates of stars and galaxies. That was in fact much of the excitement with the discovery of dark energy, since earlier theory ages differed with a factor 2 (or 100 %).

  4. Torbjörn Larsson | January 6, 2021 at 4:41 pm | Reply

    Last year shook out some promising, potentially definite, answers to the last remaining vital tension in modern cosmology theory.

    “Now we’ve come up with an answer where Planck and [Atacama Cosmology Telescope] agree,” Simone Aiola, a researcher at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics and a co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “It speaks to the fact that these difficult measurements are reliable.”

    From the paper:

    “ΛCDM is a good fit. The best-fit model has a reduced χ^2 of 1.07 (PTE=0.07) with H_0=67.9±1.5 km/s/Mpc.”

    The eBOSS galaxy survey 20 year results that goes out to high-z but also folds in BAO data gets the same H_0.

    The low-z results that lie in tension at typically 71- 74 km s^- 1 Mpc^-1, mainly data sparse and cosmic ladder dependent supernova results, may be largely caused by observing two different supernova populations [“The galaxy’s brightest explosions go nuclear with an unexpected trigger: pairs of dead stars” @ Science]

    “But he thinks cosmologists will run into trouble as they put their theories to more rigorous tests that require more precise standard candles. “Supernovae could be less useful for precision cosmology,” he says.

    Astronomers already knew the peak brightness of type Ia supernovae isn’t perfectly consistent. To cope, they have worked out an empirical formula, known as the Phillips relation, that links peak brightness to the rate at which the light fades: Flashes that decay slowly are overall brighter than those that fade quickly. But more than 30% of type Ia supernovae stray far from the Phillips relation. Perhaps low-mass D6 explosions can explain these oddballs, Shen says. For now, those who wield the cosmic yardstick will need to “throw away anything that looks weird,” Gaensicke says, and hope for the best.””

    Independent and sometimes massive low-z results rather prefer H_0 = 70 km s^- 1 Mpc^-1, such as the early binary neutron merger results or low-z galaxy surveys. For instance, that was the result from nearly 12,000 galaxies with z < 1.3 which yielded consistent distances from various methods ["Mean Estimate Distances for Galaxies with Multiple Estimates in NED-D" @ The Astronomical Journal]

    Perhaps the most fascinating reconciliation would be, besides the cosmic ladder results sampling two supernova populations, if magnetic fields from before recombination would add to the CMB and BAO results towards the median 70 km s^-1 Mpc^-1.

    “Here we show that accounting for the enhanced recombination rate due to additional small-scale inhomogeneities in the baryon density may solve both the H_0 and the S_8 – Omega_m tensions. The additional baryon inhomogeneities can be induced by primordial magnetic fields present in the plasma prior to recombination. The required field strength to solve the Hubble tension is just what is needed to explain the existence of galactic, cluster, and extragalactic magnetic fields without relying on dynamo amplification.”

    “Allowing for clumping using Model 1 makes the decisive difference, moving the best fit to H_0 = 71.03 ± 0.74 km s^-1 Mpc^-1 … This means that Planck+H3 M1 is essentially as good a fit to CMB as the Planck LambdaCDM.”

    ["Relieving the Hubble tension with primordial magnetic fields" @ arxiv]

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