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5 Nov, 2019 10:41

Thrown for a loop: Paradigm-shifting study claims universe is a closed ring, not flat

Thrown for a loop: Paradigm-shifting study claims universe is a closed ring, not flat

Astrophysicists are known for mind-bending theories that are often too difficult for mere mortals to understand but new research suggesting the universe is actually a closed loop really takes the cake… or, erm, the donut?

An international team of astronomers led by Eleonora Di Valentino of Manchester University pored over a trove of data released last year by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. 

Contrary to the popular belief that the universe is flat, Di Valentino and her team came to the conclusion that the universe is, in fact, a curved, closed and inflating sphere, in what she dubbed a “cosmological crisis” that warrants a “drastic rethinking of the current cosmological concordance model.”

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As with many things astrophysical, their theory stems from Einstein’s theory of relativity and, more specifically, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, wherein gravity bends the path of light.

The clue for the curved universe cropped up when Di Valentino and her team analyzed Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). CMB is the leftover Big Bang radiation that lingers between stars and galaxies which dates back to around 380,000 years after the universe as we know it came into being. It is the dim background light that would remain if you were to shut off all other light sources in the universe. 

The 2018 legacy data for the Planck satellite shows that this CMB is being lensed far more than it should be, according to current cosmological models, in an anomaly known as an ‘Alens.’

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“A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect, with the Planck cosmic microwave background spectra now preferring a positive curvature at more than the 99 percent confidence level,” they wrote.

“Here, we further investigate the evidence for a closed universe from Planck, showing that positive curvature naturally explains the anomalous lensing amplitude.”

However, as with most things in astrophysics and theoretical physics, it is not quite that simple. A curved universe theory may purport to confirm this one anomaly but basically everything else we know, have studied and analyzed about the shape of our universe confirms that our flat universe cosmological models are correct.  

For instance, there is also the small matter of the Hubble Constant, a great source of headaches and debate among the scientific community as no two measurements of the rate of expansion of the universe agree as things stand, so a curved universe would make things even more complicated.

Dark energy research into the unknown energy driving this universal expansion also doesn’t sit well with the proposed new curved universe theory. 

A previous analysis of the 2018 Planck data also found evidence for a curved universe but, after looking at dark energy research and other datasets, astrophysicists George Efstathiou and Steven Gratton concluded that there was “strong evidence to support a spatially flat universe.”

For now at least, it appears that the ‘closed loop’ universe theory has fallen flat but with ever-increasing datasets and more sophisticated research as time inexorably passes, we may one day know whether we all inhabit a giant donut-shaped universe or not.

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