From ABC, December 29, 2006
UNIVERSE OLDER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT, SCIENTISTS SAY
By Karen Barlow for AM
Next week much of the world will mark the passing of yet another year, but according to scientists the earth and universe are a few billion years older than anybody realised.
While people have been sleeping, fighting, eating and worrying this year, the universe became much bigger, with astronomers in the United States recalculating cosmic light to better measure intergalactic distances.
Dr Fred Watson from the Anglo-Australian Observatory at Coonabarabran says the distance of a relatively nearby galaxy was used as a new standard.
"This particular one has the glamorous name of M33 and the galaxy M33 has been now measured, because of some new information that's come to us, to be about 15 per cent further away than we thought it was," he said.
"It's gone up to around about a distance of 3 million light years, which of course is the distance that light travels in 3 million years.
"It sounds like a long way and indeed it is if you turn it into kilometres."
That new calculation has filtered through to all assessments of the universe and Dr Watson says the age and size of the universe are intimately linked.
"That's because when you look out into space you're alway looking back in time, and the ultimate thing that we can see is the flash of the big bang," he said.
"We can actually still see that today in radio waves and we can measure it."
The galaxy M33 was found to be 15 per cent further away, but Dr Fred Watson says that does not mean 15 per cent is added to the entire universe.
"But it does push it in that direction, so there's a slight change of scale," he said.
"Really it's one of these things that we'll filter through the research papers and eventually somebody will come out with a better estimate of the age of the universe.
"Let me just say that the current best estimate of the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, so that's 13.7 thousand million years."
Dr Watson says the stardusts that make up everyone and everything are older as well.
"For a human being who is sort of three quarters water, that means about half the atoms in a human being's body are hydrogen, and these hydrogen atoms actually come from the big bang, right at the beginning," he said.
"So, yeah, perhaps we can all feel just that little bit older as we come to the end of 2006."