(ORDO NEWS) — About 35 years ago, researchers discovered the cosmic microwave background, which is electromagnetic radiation left over from the formation of the universe during the Big Bang. The cosmic microwave background appears warmer in the direction we are moving and colder in the opposite direction.
From this glow of the early universe, scientists can deduce that the Sun and the Earth orbiting it are moving in a certain direction at a certain speed. The researchers found that our estimated speed is a fraction of a percent of the speed of light – small, but not zero.
Scientists can independently verify this conclusion by counting the galaxies visible from Earth or by adding their brightness.
They can do this in large part thanks to Albert Einstein’s 1905 theory of special relativity, which explains how speed affects time and space.
In this case, a person on Earth looking at the Universe in one direction – the same direction that the Sun and Earth are moving – should see galaxies that are brighter, bluer, and more concentrated. Similarly, looking the other way, one should see galaxies that are darker, redder, and farther apart.
But when researchers in recent years have tried to count the galaxies—hard to do accurately—they have come up with numbers that suggest the sun is moving much faster than previously thought, contradicting standard cosmology.
“It’s hard to count galaxies in the entire sky – you usually have to limit yourself to a hemisphere or less,” says Jeremy Darling, professor of astrophysics at CU Boulder. “And besides, our own galaxy gets in the way. It has dust that will make you find fewer galaxies and make them look dimmer as you get closer.”
Darling was intrigued and puzzled by this cosmological mystery, so he decided to do his own research. He also knew that two studies had recently been carried out that could help improve the accuracy of galaxy counts and shed light on the mystery of speed: one is called the Very Large Array Sky Survey (VLASS) in New Mexico, and the other is the Rapid Australian Square Kilometer. Array Pathfinder Continuum Survey (RACS) in Australia.
Together, these studies allowed Darling to study the entire sky, combining views of the northern and southern hemispheres. Importantly, the new research also used radio waves, which made it easier to “see” through the dust of the Milky Way, thereby improving our understanding of the universe.
When Darling analyzed the results of the research, he found that the number of galaxies and their brightness exactly matched the speed that the researchers had previously determined from the cosmic microwave background.
“We find a bright direction and a dim direction – we find a direction where there are more galaxies and a direction where there are fewer galaxies,” he said. “The big difference is that it matches the early universe from the cosmic microwave background and has the right speed. Our cosmology is in perfect order.”
But in addition to advancing the field of cosmology, these results are a good real-life example of Einstein’s special theory of relativity and demonstrate how researchers are still putting the theory into practice, more than 100 years after the famous physicist first proposed it.
“I love the idea that this basic principle that Einstein told us about a long time ago can be seen now,” says Darling.
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