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June 14, 2024

New observations challenge theories on the nature of dark energy and the fate of the universe

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Jan 9, 2024

Dark energy, the mysterious force causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate, has confounded physicists since its discovery in the late 1990s. Recent findings from major astrophysics surveys provide tantalizing – and sometimes conflicting – new clues about this enigmatic phenomenon and the ultimate fate of the cosmos.

Dark Energy Survey data favors constant expansion over “Big Rip” scenario

Analysis of over 1,000 Type Ia supernovae observed by the Dark Energy Survey (DES) over six years suggests dark energy’s repulsive force has remained constant across cosmic history instead of increasing as expected under some theories. The findings, published this week, lend support to a future of indefinite expansion rather than a “Big Rip” where dark energy eventually tears galaxies, stars, and even atoms apart. As DES scientist David Rubin explains:

“The data so far seem to support the simplest model for dark energy, in which it has a constant value throughout space and time.”

This simplicity may only be illusory, however. Co-author Gary Bernstein cautions:

“The apparent consistency with the standard model may be a fluke of the fairly small sample of supernovae in our dataset. Once we have the full dataset, there are other, more exotic theories of dark energy that we can test.”

The full DES dataset, compiled over 10 years with over 3,000 supernova observations, could bring surprises when complete analysis is published in 2024.

Apparent tensions with cosmic microwave background measurements

In contrast to the DES findings, some recent studies of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) detect possible discrepancies with the standard cosmological model and constants assumed for dark energy. The ACT team combined CMB data with baryon acoustic oscillations and Type Ia supernovae to infer dark energy makes up 66.2% of cosmic composition – a 4% higher value than obtained from Planck satellite CMB measurements. ACT leader Simone Aiola explains the tension:

“If this discrepancy is true, it would imply shocking consequences for the current cosmological model, which relied on the hypothesis that the amount of dark energy has remained constant over the eons.”

Reactions remain mixed on whether this represents previously unknown physics related to dark energy or systematic measurement errors. Upcoming analysis to further test the ACT and Planck results should bring more clarity.

Apparent acceleration could indicate exotic properties of dark energy

Rather than a cosmological constant, dark energy may have dynamic properties causing its strength to vary differently across space and time. New findings from the Dark Energy Survey Supernova Program (DES-SN) reveal Type Ia supernovae explosions accelerated faster than expected in remote regions of space. According to lead author Mat Smith:

“One exciting possible explanation is that dark energy is growing in strength causing the accelerating expansion of the Universe to speed up over time […] This would mean that dark energy does not behave like Einstein’s cosmological constant.”

Region of space Measured acceleration Expected acceleration
Nearby Lower Higher
Distant Higher Lower

Smith notes further data is required to distinguish whether this reflects genuinely new dark energy physics or other possible systematic measurement issues. Upcoming analysis of the full 10-year DES dataset will provide much improved understanding.

Theories proliferate on the potential nature of dark energy

Theorists have proposed numerous models to explain the possible dynamic evolution of dark energy density over cosmic history. As described in a review of recent supernova measurements:

“The discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe a decade ago opened an entirely new field to understand the hidden ingredients of the universe: dark matter and dark energy. Since then, researchers have struggled to pin down the nature of dark energy with little success. Its chameleon-like properties differ radically from the other known constituents of the universe.”

Leading hypotheses like quintessence suggest dark energy could take the form of dynamical scalar fields evolving across space and time. Growing evidence for such dynamics could indicate new fundamental forces beyond gravitation and the known quantum fields.

Outlook: Refining measurements and narrowing possibilities

Upcoming surveys like DES, the Vera C. Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST), and the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission will compile orders of magnitude more supernova observations to precisely track cosmic acceleration across vast portions of history. Combined with increasing precision from CMB experiments, major advances in understanding are on the horizon.

Asdescribed by Euclid leader Dominique Zerbi:

“With Euclid we will observe hundreds of thousands of supernovae, allowing us to study dark energy out to high redshift with unprecedented precision. […] This will enable us to explore whether dark energy is constant over time or evolves with the expansion.”

Though many theoretical possibilities remain open for dark energy’s nature, the coming flood of high-quality observations should soon narrow down the realistic contenders. Whether a cosmological constant or dynamical field, illuminating the profound we may stand on the cusp of revolutionizing our understanding of fundamental physics.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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