For the first time researchers have measured large distances in the Universe using data, rather than calculations related to general relativity.
A research team from Imperial College London and the University of Barcelona has used data from astronomical surveys to measure a standard distance that is central to our understanding of the expansion of the universe.
Previously the size of this ‘standard ruler’ has only been predicted from theoretical models that rely on general relativity to explain gravity at large scales. The new study is the first to measure it using observed data. A standard ruler is an object which consistently has the same physical size so that a comparison of its actual size to its size in the sky will provide a measurement of its distance to earth.
“Our research suggests that current methods for measuring distance in the Universe are more complicated than they need to be,” said Professor Alan Heavens from the Department of Physics, Imperial College London who led the study. “Traditionally in cosmology, general relativity plays a central role in most models and interpretations. We have demonstrated that current data are powerful enough to measure the geometry and expansion history of the Universe without relying on calculations relating to general relativity.
“We hope this more data-driven approach, combined with an ever increasing wealth of observational data, could provide more precise measurements that will be useful for future projects that are planning to answer major questions around the acceleration of the Universe and dark energy.”