June 2, 2023

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Groundbreaking measurement of the expansion of the universe reshapes a long-running debate

This image shows the massive galaxy cluster MACS J1149.5+223, whose light has taken more than 5 billion years to reach us. The cluster’s massive mass bends light from distant objects. The light from these objects has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing. The same effect is creating multiple images of the same distant objects. Credit: NASA, European Space Agency, S.A.E. Rodney (John Hopkins University, USA) and Frontier SN Team; T. Treu (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), P. Kelly (UC Berkeley, USA) and the GLASS team; Lotus (STScI) and Frontierfields Team; M. Postman (STScI) and the CLASH Team; and Z. Levay (STScI)

Research led by the University of Minnesota could help determine the age of the universe more precisely.

A team led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities used a first-of-its-kind technique to measure the expansion rate of the universe, providing insights that could help determine the age of the universe more accurately and help physicists and astronomers better understand the cosmos.

With data from a multi-image, magnified supernova, a team led by researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has succeeded in using a first-of-its-kind technique to measure the expansion rate of the universe. Their data provides insight into a long-standing debate in the field and could help scientists determine the age of the universe more accurately and better understand the universe.

The work is divided into two papers published respectively in SciencesIt is one of the best peer-reviewed academic journals in the world the Big Bang

However, these two measurements differ by about 10 percent, which has caused widespread debate among physicists and astronomers. If both measurements are accurate, that means scientists’ current theory about the makeup of the universe is incomplete.

“If new, independent measurements confirm this disagreement between the two measurements of the Hubble constant, it would become a chink in the armor of our understanding of the cosmos,” said Patrick Kelly, lead author of both papers and an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota School of Physics and Astronomy. “The big question is if there is a possible issue with one or both of the measurements. Our research addresses that by using an independent, completely different way to measure the expansion rate of the Universe.”

The University of Minnesota-led team was able to calculate this value using data from a supernova discovered by Kelly in 2014—the first-ever example of a multiply-imaged supernova, meaning that the telescope captured four different images of the same cosmic event. After the discovery, teams around the world predicted that the supernova would reappear at a new position in 2015, and the University of Minnesota team detected this additional image.

These multiple images appeared because the supernova was gravitationally lensed by a galaxy cluster, a phenomenon in which mass from the cluster bends and magnifies light. By using the time delays between the appearances of the 2014 and 2015 images, the researchers were able to measure the Hubble Constant using a theory developed in 1964 by Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal that had previously been impossible to put into practice.

The researchers’ findings don’t absolutely settle the debate, Kelly said, but they do provide more insight into the problem and bring physicists closer to obtaining the most accurate measurement of the Universe’s age.

“Our measurement is in better agreement with the value from the cosmic microwave background, although—given the uncertainties—it does not rule out the measurement from the local distance ladder,” Kelly said. “If observations of future supernovae that are also gravitationally lensed by clusters yield a similar result, then it would identify an issue with the current supernova value, or our understanding of galaxy-cluster dark matter.”

Using the same data, the researchers found that some current models of galaxy-cluster dark matter were able to explain their observations of the supernovae. This allowed them to determine the most accurate models for the locations of dark matter in the galaxy cluster, a question that has long plagued astronomers.


“Constraints on the Hubble constant from Supernova Refsdal’s reappearance” by Patrick L. Kelly, Steven Rodney, Tommaso Treu, Masamune Oguri, Wenlei Chen, Adi Zitrin, Simon Birrer, Vivien Bonvin, Luc Dessart, Jose M. Diego, Alexei V. Filippenko, Ryan J. Foley, Daniel Gilman, Jens Hjorth, Mathilde Jauzac, Kaisey Mandel, Martin Millon, Justin Pierel, Keren Sharon, Stephen Thorp, Liliya Williams, Tom Broadhurst, Alan Dressler, Or Graur, Saurabh Jha, Curtis McCully, Marc Postman, Kasper Borello Schmidt, Brad E. Tucker and Anja von der Linden, 11 May 2023, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abh1322

“The Magnificent Five Images of Supernova Refsdal: Time Delay and Magnification Measurements” by Patrick L. Kelly, Steven Rodney, Tommaso Treu, Simon Birrer, Vivien Bonvin, Luc Dessart, Ryan J. Foley, Alexei V. Filippenko, Daniel Gilman, Saurabh Jha, Jens Hjorth, Kaisey Mandel, Martin Millon, Justin Pierel, Stephen Thorp, Adi Zitrin, Tom Broadhurst, Wenlei Chen, Jose M. Diego, Alan Dressler, Or Graur, Mathilde Jauzac, Matthew A. Malkan, Curtis McCully, Masamune Oguri, Marc Postman, Kasper Borello Schmidt, Keren Sharon, Brad E. Tucker, Anja von der Linden and Joachim Wambsganss, 11 May 2023, The Astrophysical Journal.
DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ac4ccb

This research was funded primarily by NASA through the Space Telescope Science Institute and the National Science Foundation.

In addition to Kelly, the team included researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics; the University of South Carolina; the University of California, Los Angeles; Stanford University; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne; Sorbonne University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Toronto; Rutgers University; the University of Copenhagen; the University of Cambridge; the Kavli Institute for Cosmology; Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; University of the Basque Country; the University of Cantabria; Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (the Spanish National Research Council); the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science; the University of Portsmouth; Durham University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Tokyo; the Space Telescope Science Institute; the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam; the University of Michigan; Australian National University; Stony Brook University; Heidelberg University; and Chiba University.

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