New Calculation of Hubble’s Constant and Age of Universe Using 50 Galaxies

Universe Expansion Concept

Study led by a University of Oregon physicist reconfigures a distance-calculation technique built around empirical observations.

Using known distances of 50 galaxies from Earth to refine calculations in Hubble’s constant, a research team led by a University of Oregon astronomer estimates the age of the universe at 12.6 billion years.

Approaches to date the Big Bang, which gave birth to the universe, rely on mathematics and computational modeling, using distance estimates of the oldest stars, the behavior of galaxies and the rate of the universe’s expansion. The idea is to compute how long it would take all objects to return to the beginning.

A key calculation for dating is the Hubble’s constant, named after Edwin Hubble who first calculated the universe’s expansion rate in 1929. Another recent technique uses observations of leftover radiation from the Big Bang. It maps bumps and wiggles in spacetime — the cosmic microwave background, or CMB — and reflects conditions in the early universe as set by Hubble’s constant.

However, the methods reach different conclusions, said James Schombert, a professor of physics at the UO. In a paper published on July 17, 2020, in the Astronomical Journal, he and colleagues unveil a new approach that recalibrates a distance-measuring tool known as the baryonic Tully-Fisher relation independently of Hubble’s constant.

“The distance scale problem, as it is known, is incredibly difficult because the distances to galaxies are vast and the signposts for their distances are faint and hard to calibrate,” Schombert said.

Schombert’s team recalculated the Tully-Fisher approach, using accurately defined distances in a linear computation of the 50 galaxies as guides for measuring the distances of 95 other galaxies. The universe, he noted, is ruled by a series of mathematical patterns expressed in equations. The new approach more accurately accounts for the mass and rotational curves of galaxies to turn those equations into numbers like age and expansion rate.

His team’s approach determines the Hubble’s constant — the universe’s expansion rate — at 75.1 kilometers per second per megaparsec, give or take 2.3. A megaparsec, a common unit of space-related measurements, is equal to one million parsecs. A parsec is about 3.3 light-years.

All Hubble’s constant values lower than 70, his team wrote, can be ruled out with 95 percent degree of confidence.

Traditionally used measuring techniques over the past 50 years, Schombert said, have set the value at 75, but CMB computes a rate of 67. The CMB technique, while using different assumptions and computer simulations, should still arrive at the same estimate, he said.

“The tension in the field occurs from the fact that it does not,” Schombert said. “This difference is well outside the observational errors and produced a great deal of friction in the cosmological community.”

Calculations drawn from observations of NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe in 2013 put the age of the universe at 13.77 billion years, which, for the moment, represents the standard model of Big Bang cosmology. The differing Hubble’s constant values from the various techniques generally estimate the universe’s age at between 12 billion and 14.5 billion years.

The new study, based in part on observations made with the Spitzer Space Telescope, adds a new element to how calculations to reach Hubble’s constant can be set, by introducing a purely empirical method, using direct observations, to determine the distance to galaxies, Schombert said.

“Our resulting value is on the high side of the different schools of cosmology, signaling that our understanding of the physics of the universe is incomplete with the hope of new physics in the future,” he said.

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Reference: “Using the Baryonic Tully–Fisher Relation to Measure H o ” by James Schombert, Stacy McGaugh and Federico Lelli, 17 July 2020, Astronomical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/ab9d88

Co-authors on the paper were Stacy McGaugh of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and Federico Lelli of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom.

The research was supported by NASA funds issued through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, and a separate grant from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

29 Comments on "New Calculation of Hubble’s Constant and Age of Universe Using 50 Galaxies"

  1. Now, my knowledge of astronomy is pretty minimal… My interest high… Question that bothers me is….what was before the big bang? Was it just energy? Dark matter? What?we measure the universe at 12.6 bln yrs old… 12.7 bln yrs??? Was?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:15 pm | Reply

      On age, see my comments responding to the article. It is a small, local sample. And as an astrophysicist say [see link in that comment]: “Unless the cosmos is lying to us, or we’re unwittingly fooling ourselves, what we know of as the hot Big Bang occurred between 13.67 and 13.95 billion years ago: no less and no more. Don’t believe any claims to the contrary without comparing them to the full suite of data!”

      Current cosmology is an inflationary hot big bang cosmology, which in some sense explain your questions but not all of it, as explained in this video with a script from a known astrophysicist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1Q8tS-9hYo .

      It is short (partly because it doesn’t cover mechanisms) but should clear some things up, if you see the whole of it which gets back to more fully answer (or not) your questions at the end. Hope that helps!

  2. Howard Jeffrey Bender | July 28, 2020 at 5:01 am | Reply

    While it doesn’t directly say it, the measurements used must be based on Type 1a supernova with calculations assuming an accelerated rate of universe expansion, ie, Dark Energy. A view of String Theory suggests another possibility, that all matter and energy, including photons (light), have vibrating strings as their basis.

    String and anti-string pairs are speculated to be created in the quantum foam and they immediately annihilate each other. If light passes near these string/anti-string annihilations, perhaps some of that annihilation energy is absorbed by the string in the light. Then the Fraunhofer lines in that light will move a bit towards the blue and away from the red shift. As this continues in an expanding universe we get the same curve displayed at the Nobel Prize lecture, without the need for Dark Energy.

    This speculation has the universe behaving in a much more direct way. Specifics can be found in my YouTube https://www.youtu…-SMXbu1c

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:17 pm | Reply

      That is self promotion.

      For age estimates based on star clusters and redshift alone, see my comments – with references – responding to the article. The ages are consistent.

      • Howard Jeffrey Bender | July 29, 2020 at 10:44 am | Reply

        Note – Although I’ve asked before, you still haven’t said how the material in the Dark Energy YouTube is wrong. Perhaps you’re one of those who just refuse to accept the possibility of strings.

        • Torbjörn Larsson | July 29, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Reply

          I don’t need to, your material isn’t peer reviewed published, or you would say so.

          Irony here, my internet history show me as a fairly strong string supporter between 2000ish and 2020ish since it works to simplify math and could be a real physics. But natural supersymmetry string theory failed miserably in LHC (no dark matter candidates), ACME (electron sphericity exclude particles within about LHC energy range) and axion searches (light dark matter alternative; solves strong CP). So string theory is not an alternative. (There is also now work on how AdS is needed since no one has shown that the string “landscape” of theories is not an unphysical “swampland”. But I haven’t read those – they are still theory, though could be consistent with what we see/not see – and now I don’t need to.)

          Look, self promotion means you are a meaningless troll. I was mainly concerned that others hadn’t grokked that fact.

          If you want to instead have a discussion/questions about physics, welcome – that’s what these threads are for!

          • Howard Jeffrey Bender | July 29, 2020 at 8:52 pm |

            You still haven’t said why my Dark Energy speculation is wrong, undoubtedly because you can’t. Established physicists haven’t been able to either, although they maintain a bit of dignity in their responses. BTW – I also have YouTubes for Dark Matter and Supersymmetry, but it sounds like you aren’t interested.

          • Torbjörn Larsson | July 30, 2020 at 4:47 pm |

            I did say – I’m saying it is an unfounded speculation – and you agree – so it is unlikely to be correct. Meanwhile we have more or less well founded speculation, which can be published as such.

            Personal attack such as you use has no bearing on the facts of the matter. If you feel slighted, it is hard for others to understand why, since “troll” is the established term for what you do, and it is a term that established physicists often has to use (I do).

            Of course I have no interest in pseudoscience speculation! I asked if you had any interest in discussing real physics – and you are free to formulate your speculation as a question and we may discuss why it is unpublishable (not science) – but it appears not. Until next time you troll on a science site, then.

  3. The farthest light now seen is the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background), so measuring its red shift should be as accurate as can be. Are galaxies slowing or speeding up? Cepheid Variables, Type 1-A supernovas, and some type of average light may offer some consistency.

  4. Aren’t there stars that are older than 12 billion years? If true, wouldn’ that disprove this method?

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Reply

      Good questions! See my comments on precisely that when I responded to the article.

      TL;DR: The age estimates are consistent when you figure in their uncertainties.

  5. Agha alihassan | July 28, 2020 at 11:45 am | Reply

    Energy in the cosmos is ever constant,has no beginning and no end.
    Before Bigbang was singular energy causing Big bang by creating the present Universe.This singular energy was the signature of Pre-universe that prior completed its age period and transformed into Energy.
    How many Bigbangs have occured in past and will occur in future,no one knows,except the creator knows better than the best.
    .

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:26 pm | Reply

      I liked your comment, which is actually pretty correct according to current inflationary hot big bang cosmology accepted mire broadly. But then you had to run off into superstition – and the irony is that the constant zero energy of a putatively infinite inflationary universe means we can now say ‘creator’ action didn’t happen. If the universe is not eternal, whatever came before must have spontaneously changed, there was no work involved.

      The Planck collaboration came out with flat space 2018 from independent methods, and from that we can say no superstitiou ‘gods’ exist – they “killed” them.

  6. Mike Schoenwald | July 28, 2020 at 12:09 pm | Reply

    It still took god to light the fuse for the big bang.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:30 pm | Reply

      No. The average zero energy density – flat space – Planck collaboration saw 2018 means no work, including putative magic action, went into the universe. There are no ‘gods’.

  7. Rubbish, the universe is and always will be. With the current techniques used, the distance to the earliest parts of said universe is a constant regardless of direction. That would make US at the centre, which is of course stupid. The actual size of the universe is something we don’t have the ability to at this state of time, and possibly the further out we look the older it gets. Or not. Just another theory, and that’s all it ever will be until we can travel intergalactically!

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:36 pm | Reply

      Cool, I just came up with an estimate of local universe volume in response to a similar comment elsewhere. It’s locally late, so I’ll just C&P. Mind that the question was how many copies would we see in an infinite (flat) universe.

      But first, what would travel have to do with accepted cosmology? We know what redshift means.

      Here goes:

      “There are reasons to believe that the multiverse, not necessarily the local universe, is infinite.

      – Flat space means average zero energy density over vast volumes, and classical systems with zero energy are eternal “ground” states.

      – The inflation physics (of a “slow roll” scalar potential, c.f. Planck 2018 cosmology parameters summary paper) has it as the natural process, so it is prior most likely (need constraint to not have it). This is consistent with “ground” state in the sense that slow roll appears to be a frustrated such state, and of course since inflation expands much faster it dominates the multiverse volume. (In fact, I think measure theory would say that the local universes sum to zero volume “mass” – making an effectively empty and 0 K multiverse, with some interesting “spots” including very rare habitable such. But I haven’t checked that yet.)

      – Weinberg’s selection bias is, again, the natural consequence of such a universe.

      – It would explain why fundamental laws such as the universal speed limit (of massless gravitons in the inflationary multiverse) is constant.

      So how many copies of ourselves would we see in a local universe?

      That would depend on the size of the inflation field fluctuation that kicked the local slow roll over the hill. The birth statistics would look like a Poisson process, so I guess we consistently could assume the local universe originates where Planck see the field potential hill top. If I take the largest visible fluctuations (which was sent outside the horizon but came back), and multiply them with the smallest possible expansion factor of 10^26, I get ~ 1 Gpc*10^26 or 10^33 Gpc radius for inflaton fluctuations of the early universe. So a guesstimate is that our local universe could be 10^75 times larger than the observable universe in volume.

      The distance to your closest identical copy would lie at least 10^10^28 m away, assuming fluctuation statistics [ https://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/PDF/multiverse_sciam.pdf ]. A Gpc is ~ 3*10^25 m, so a copy would lie at least 10^10^26 times farther away than our local universe radius. A copy of the entire observable universe would lie 10^10^110 times farther away. Converting that back to likelihood I would say it would be very unlikely to see copies of any kind of complicated individuals within local universes.

      By the way, thanks for making me do a first try on this, sometime after I accepted selection bias and grokked its statistical properties (as related above)! I have no idea if the estimate is supportable yet, in fact as I sat down to try I didn’t think I would get an estimate at all.”

      • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:46 pm | Reply

        You may also need this part of another comment:

        “But most exciting to me is that they [the recent BOSS galaxy survey – 4 million galaxies vs the 50 here] aren’t shy with listing Weinberg’s selection bias (“anthropic multiverse”) among the possible explanations. It is the simplest one, and it is consistent with Planck’s 2018 data on slow roll (“multiverse”) inflation. And it – as well as the summary paper from BOSS – gives the finger to string theory which failed being “natural” in both LHC and ACME experiments in short succession:

        “Nevertheless, the observed consistency with flat ΛCDM at the higher precision of this work points increasingly towards a pure cosmological constant solution, for example, as would be produced by a vacuum energy finetuned to have a small value. This fine-tuning represents a theoretical difficulty without any agreed-upon resolution and one that may not be resolvable through fundamental physics considerations alone (Weinberg 1989; Brax & Valageas 2019). This difficulty has been substantially sharpened by the observations presented here.””

    • Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:42 pm | Reply

      It’s late, but I reread your comment as I checked my posting.

      – The comoving (“real”) distance is not constant, but the light that reach us from all directions have traveled in a complex way. They constitute consecutive shells depending on what redshift distance of the emitter is at, so don’t confuse that “lightcone geometry” with the geometry of the universe.

      – There is no “centre” of the universe. It is homogeneous and isotropic to vast distances, and general relativity describing space (Einstein’äs equations) are self contained. Space just expands, there is no other space to expand ‘in’.

  8. Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Reply

    This little local sample, using a method with proxies (baryonic matter and rotation velocity in disk galaxies) depending on dark matter existence, adheres to the trend of finding low-z nearby objects indicating a Hubble parameter H0 > 72 km s^-1 Mpc^-1.

    From the abstract: “We then apply this calibrated bTFR to 95 independent galaxies from the SPARC sample, using CosmicFlows-3 velocities, to deduce the local value of H o . We find H o = 75.1 ± 2.3 (stat) ±1.5 (sys) km s−1 Mpc−1.”

    The interesting claim is that they try to derive an age of the universe by model extrapolation, and find an age that is not consistent with the age of integrated, high-z data. “It cannot be a billion years older or younger than this figure, not unless a whole host of things that we’ve measured have driven us to wildly incorrect conclusions. Unless the cosmos is lying to us, or we’re unwittingly fooling ourselves, what we know of as the hot Big Bang occurred between 13.67 and 13.95 billion years ago: no less and no more. Don’t believe any claims to the contrary without comparing them to the full suite of data!” [ https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2020/07/17/ask-ethan-how-do-we-know-how-old-the-universe-is/#51fa75c965b8 ]

  9. Torbjörn Larsson | July 28, 2020 at 6:08 pm | Reply

    Coincidentally the figures on star cluster age in the linked article, “a good constraint to have”, has already been improved on. ” In the end, they obtained an average age estimate of the oldest global clusters to be 13.13 billion years. After taking into account the amount of time it would take for these globular clusters to form, they were able to infer an age estimate of 13.35 billion years. This result has a 68% confidence level and includes a range of uncertainty of ±0.16 billion years (statistical) and ±0.5 billion years (systemic). This value is compatible with the previous age estimate of 13.8 ± 0.02 billion years … in a way that’s not dependent on theoretical models.” [ https://www.universetoday.com/147122/according-to-globular-clusters-the-universe-is-13-35-billion-years-old/ ]

  10. AnarchyRules | July 29, 2020 at 3:23 am | Reply

    Nobody will ever know for sure how old the universe actually is.
    Moreover, who cares?

    I find it absolutely laughable when I hear things like,
    parallel universe, time travel, worm holes etc.

    Ever seen images/impressions of exploding stars?
    They explode in all directions, but when they show you
    impressions of the big bang, you see that it only expands in one direction.

    Personally, I laugh at these so called scientists.
    They assume and guess and theorize.

    These guys are a waste of money!

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