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Science from the Soap Box


size and age of the universe

We all know that 2+2=4 right?  This is ingrained into us at an early age yet as adults we tend to forget that this formula is actually meaningless without context.  Without the 'of something' factored in, even an abstract such as the number 1, the formula will not be factual.  Truthful, yes, but factual, no, and I challenge any mathematician to prove me wrong!

Be it cookies, coinage or light years if you forget context then you will miss the mark.  Worse yet is when you make an observation or take a measurement and you forget to do the math—because in science the context of an observation or a measurement requires the framework of perspective.  The key considerations being: of, from, to and how long.

Let's look at a roll of pennies.  To the average Jane or John Doe a roll of pennies is 50 but to the United States Treasury that roll represents $1 to manufacture and distribute.  That is 2 for a zinc penny to go forth and live out its life at a 1 exchange rate.  And, as a heads up, the pre 1983 copper pennies now have a melt value of 2.3 (as of March of 2012) as opposed to the 0.5 melt value of zinc pennies from 1983 on.

Again, it's all about perspective.  One object that has four different values based upon the production costs, exchange rate, metallic content and/or the date of manufacture.  How does this relate to the size and age of the universe you ask?  Well, it's about a failure to find the perspective.

Let's start with that measurement thingy...

Because of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) we've got a pretty solid picture of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) event and how far away it is from us.  That value being a radius of 13.73 billion light years, assuming that we are within 5% radii of the universal center, and it's moving away from our point of view at the speed of light (c).  The CMBR is a flashpoint about 380,000 years after the big bang referred to as photon decoupling.  Also, because of the Hubble Space Telescope and red shift, we now see that the farthest galaxies from our point of view are 13.1 billion light years away, and we also know that they're moving away from us near c and accelerating—hot on the tails of the expanding CMBR event.

From these observations science has come up with a lot of answers to age-old questions and in a conversational setting I'd be asking you what you could make of them on your own, but we don't have that luxury here. If we stay away from that spacetime malarkey, and stick with good old fashioned Euclidean space for now, you can, all on your own, solve this riddle all by your lonesome!

Now, what can you make out of a 13.73 billion light year measurement of the CMBR?  Science has determined that, without a doubt, the universe is 13.73 billion years old, but I want you to try something...add.

"Add what?" you ask.

Okay, let's try this, a light year measures the distance light travels in a year (that's one for the d'uh meter) and it gives you two, count 'em, two tidbits of data—time AND distance.  So, let's try this again, take a look at this measurement and queue the Jeopardy theme for 30 seconds...

"What is 27.4 billion years?"    [ding! ding! ding!]

That number represents the minimum age of the universe if you made the correct observation about the measurement.  If you are wondering why I say that let's look at that measurement again.

If the CMBR is 13.73 billion light years away from us, and it's moving away at the speed of light in pretty much all directions around our point of view, then ask yourself this...where is the CMBR and the edge of the universe now?  If it has taken 13.7 or so billion years for the CMBR to reach that point, and 13.7 billion years for what we now see to get back to us—the CMBR has since moved out another 13.7 billion light years from where we see it right-now right-now.

In a flat universe that is forever expanding if we accept the possibility that we are within 5% of the universal radii to the universal center, then these conclusions would not only be true but factual.

That would make the universe at least 54.8 billion light years across.

Let's chat about that spacetime thingy for just a smidge—which has an impact on a lot of popular theories nowadays.  It is my contention that the first and second dimensions do not exist as physically substantive constructs.  They are mathematical/geometrical constructs, frameworks have you, that give perspective to the physical world.  It's also my claim that forth dimensional spacetime does not exist, because time does not exist, and all the theories that are founded on these ideas go right down the tubes.  Some of the theories they've come up with are real kick-ass, yes, but without the spacetime cornerstone they fail to ring true.

There is no purpose listing them all here, but as they relate to the size and age of the universe some of those ideas are pretty awesome AND crazy all in the same breath.  Wow, the idea(s) that photons can move faster than C through warped and stretched space near the CMBR, and relative towards our point of view, can be compelling if you believe that space itself is expanding—and yet they did not take into account that photons have yet to be granted those magical abilities around black holes where space is as violently stretched and warped as it would be
at the edge of the expanding universe.

Then again, maybe our universe is expanding and space itself is not?  Admittedly, pondering that one is like gnawing on a mouthful of gristle but it could very well be that our underlining quantum reality is expanding and space itself is static?  Yet another idea I just pulled out of my ass that will never gain traction or relevance.  Oh well...

The various theories that propose a size to the universe you can count on your fingers and toes but the most accepted is 93 billion light years.  Now, a 46.5 billion light year radius may sound intriguing, based upon one interpretation of WMAP and the Hubble Constant, but the long and short of it is that conclusion flies in the face of reason.  The estimation made there is based upon a stretchy-space theory whose cornerstone is of another theory (i.e. forth dimensional spacetime) and at the end of the day it is still just an "abstract theory" and not fact.

It is better to have ideas than answers, yes, but sometimes an idea can artificially transcend the facts and morph into truth because the belief in that idea can be so irresistible.  Therein lies the danger—belief.  It is so easy for a belief to bypass the foundations of reason and perspective and allow one to accept a theory, no matter how viable or crazy it could be, as truth.  Sad thing is we commit ourselves to that failing all the time in both science and our personal lives.

If the universe is expanding in lock-step with the value of c (light-speed) and what is proposed in the ΛCDM model and inflation are set aside as flawed theories, because they are theories with a blemished foundation, then this we do know about what we do see...  The age of the universe is not 13.73 billion years but in reality at least 27.5 billion years of age, and the size of the universe has a radii of 27.5 billion light-years and not 46.5 billion light-years.  Then when we finally figure out where we really are between the CMBR to the universal center, we'll see that the universe is actually bigger and older than we thought, but until then this is what we got.

Anything else would be theory, speculation and, at worse, conjecture. 


Let's go back to that furthest galaxy thing for a sec.  Science says that those galaxies are 600 million years old but when you do the math you can see they were already over 13 billion years of age before that light started coming back to us.

I sent this reasoning to Astronomy Magazine online to the Letter to the Editor on 9/18/2011 as well as Ask Astro (below) on 9/19/2011...

On the April 2011 issue you answered a question about the age and distance between us and the galaxies at the edge of the hubble ultra deep field image. Astro gave a definitive answer based upon distance and said that those galaxies are 600 years old by that observation. Hum, it begs to be asked... how long did it take those galaxies to get there before the light started to travel back to us. Riddle me this, for arguments sake, if we are inside a 10th of the universal radii then wouldn't it take about that much time for those galaxies to get where we see them? And then about that much time again to get back to us? Where are they now? If they are traveling away from us near c (speed of light) based upon current observations then wouldn't they be 13.1 billion light years farther out right now-right now? If at 10% of the universal radii then wouldn't that image be of galaxies at around 13 billion years old? Traveling away from us at c then would they now be about twice the age and the observable universe twice as wide? Don't you think we need to determine how long it took those galaxies to get where they are at before we determine how old they are and how far they are away from us now and not by what we see? By the argument I posed then would not the distance they are now make the universe twice as old and wide? About the only thing I can do in math is add and every time I hear astronomers talk about the age and size of the universe it seems like they come up with counterintuitive conclusions based on the simplest of observations. Feel free to respond because I'm dying to hear you knock me down a peg or two.

Haven't heard back from them.  Hum, go fig?

nicholas ralph baum
May 5, 2012

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