The universe is expanding uniformly according to research led by University College London (UCL) which reports that space isn’t stretching in a preferred direction or spinning.
The team from UCL and Imperial College London used measurements of the CMB taken between 2009 and 2013 by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite. The spacecraft recently released information about the polarisation of CMB across the whole sky for the first time, providing a complementary view of the early universe that the team was able to exploit.
The researchers modeled a comprehensive variety of spinning and stretching scenarios and how these might manifest in the CMB, including its polarization. They then compared their findings with the real map of the cosmos from Planck, searching for specific signs in the data.
Daniela Saadeh, explained: “We calculated the different patterns that would be seen in the cosmic microwave background if space has different properties in different directions. Signs might include hot and cold spots from stretching along a particular axis, or even spiral distortions.”
Illustration of the possible patterns an anisotropic universe would leave in the cosmic microwave background, including (clockwise from bottom left) the contribution from quantum fluctuations, and from three different aspects of the anisotropic expansion
Credit: Saadeh et al.
Previous studies only looked at how the universe might rotate, whereas this study is the first to test the widest possible range of geometries of space. Additionally, using the wealth of new data collected from Planck allowed the team to achieve vastly tighter bounds than the previous study. “You can never rule it out completely, but we now calculate the odds that the universe prefers one direction over another at just one in 121,000,” said Daniela Saadeh.
Most current cosmological studies assume that the Universe behaves identically in every direction. If this assumption were to fail, a large number of analyses of the cosmos and its content would be flawed.
Daniela Saadeh, added: “We’re very glad that our work vindicates what most cosmologists assume. For now, cosmology is safe.”
The work was kindly supported by the Perren Fund, IMPACT fund, Royal Astronomical Society, Science and Technology Facilities Council, Royal Society, European Research Council, and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.