Scientists have observed, for the first time, that the early universe was moving extremely slowly.
The researchers achieved the feat by using data from quasars, massive, bright and distant objects in outer space that astronomers can use as “beacons.”
As light from a quasar travels through the universe, it leaves a trail that can provide clues to the origin of everything from stars to entire galaxies.
In this case, scientists in Australia and New Zealand studied 190 quasars over two decades in an attempt to effectively turn them into “clocks,” with each wavelength representing a tick (or tock).
Light from quasars travels through space for billions of years before being seen by telescopes, allowing the team to use them to travel back in time.
The process is based entirely on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which explains how time moves differently depending on motion and speed, meaning that events that happen at the same time for one person may happen at a different time for another person.
Therefore, the distant or ancient universe should appear to have moved slower than the present universe.
“Early hours seem to drag”
Professor Geraint Lewis, from the University of Sydney, said: “Thanks to Einstein, we know that time and space are intertwined, and that the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang singularity.
“This expansion of space means that our observations of the early universe should flow much more slowly than today. In this paper, we have dated this back to about a billion years after the Big Bang.”
Professor Lewis said that after the Big Bang, about 13.8 billion years ago, the flow of the universe appeared to have slowed down by a factor of five.
“If you were there, in this baby universe, a second would seem like a second — but from where we are, 12 billion years in the future, early times seem like a long time,” he explained.
Professor Lewis and University of Auckland colleague Dr Brendon Brewer published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy.