News & Politics

‘Observer’ Observations Maybe Don’t Include Observing Stars, Galaxies


The New York Times has an interesting little piece today about how astronomers have discovered a fascinating paradox: as the expansion of the universe picks up, development of stars and galaxies is actually slowing down.

For the literary set over at The Observer, however, thinking about this science stuff must make their heads hurt, because they seemed to have misunderstood the first part of that equation:

“The universe’s expansion has slowed down,” the Observer tells us.

Um, no.

By the time you read this, the Observer may have had time to go back and read the Times a little more carefully. One can only hope.

The expansion of the universe is actually speeding up, which, the second half of the Times story explains, is still a mystery to astronomers after it was confirmed in recent years.

The new measurements Overbye is reporting on add another interesting wrinkle: as the galaxies hurtle away from each other ever faster, the star-forming processes in those galaxies is slowing down, as if the galaxies, after ten billion years of growth, were “like sullen teenagers who suddenly refuse to eat,” he writes.

The rest of the piece is about how astronomers are feeling pretty certain about their observations, confirming that the universe is flying apart faster and faster. (Which means, yes, that everything you see will some day all be totally dark, frozen, and dead – including all the stars in the sky. But we’re talking trillions of years or something, so don’t panic.) But the reason behind that acceleration – ‘dark energy’ – is still little understood, and trying to follow the various theories about it make my head hurt.

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