Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Space NASA Science

The Universe Is 13.73 Billion Years Old 755

CaptainCarrot writes "Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer has summarized for his readers the new results released by NASA from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which has been surveying the 3K microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang. Some of the most interesting results: The age of the universe is now known to unprecedented accuracy: 13.73 billion years old, +/- 120 million. Spacetime is flat to within a 2% error margin. And ordinary matter and energy account for only 4.62% of the universe's total. Plait's comment on the age result: 'Some people might say it doesn't look a day over 6000 years. They're wrong.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Universe Is 13.73 Billion Years Old

Comments Filter:
  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:11PM (#22677918)
    It is simultaneously 13.73 billion years and 6000 years old, depending on your frame of reference. As we know, time dilation means that a spaceship flying for a year at a high enough speed could return to Earth only to find that the crew's families have been dead for a thousand years due to local time passing at different rates for objects moving at different speeds. For this reason, a photon moves at the speed of light no matter how fast you are moving relative to that photon. Similarly, from our frame of reference inside the Universe, 13.73 billion years have elapsed. From another frame of reference, it is 6000 years old and not a minute more. Both measurements are perfectly valid and correct.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:19PM (#22678048) Homepage Journal
    I believe that at that point the time dimension(if you will) as already around. So yes LITERAL microseconds.

  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:4, Informative)

    by Naughty Bob ( 1004174 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:37PM (#22678368)
    That's the age of the Earth. So, yes.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:37PM (#22678370)
    That's approximately the age of the earth, or 4.54 billion is about the best estimate. Since models for the accretion time (how long it took for collisions and gravity to build up the earth) vary, take that with a plus or minus of 10 million to 100 million years or so.
  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:45PM (#22678464) Homepage Journal
    I know a number of Catholics and other christians, a number of Jews, and a handful of Buddhists who would all reject your attempted "evidence" for a number of reasons.

    The base reason, though, why you're entirely wrong, is twofold:

    Number one, you're assuming that science is unchangeable and that what came first is inevitably more accurate. While this may be acceptable for scripture, it's exactly opposite to what's acceptable for science.

    Why is this?

    Because science is based on the assumption that while it may be the most useful explanation for the way things work at the moment, it may possibly be disproved with better equipment and techniques at some time in the future. Hence, this 'revisionism' that your link claims is somehow a bad thing is, instead, just the way science works.

    Secondly, each of the explanations for the apparent "young age" given is incomplete. The age of Niagara falls, for instance, does not take into account geological uplift, vulcanism, deposition of sediments, or any other of the ways in which erosion is countered. The assertion that the sun is "getting smaller" has been measured; Heimholz' calculations were based on incomplete information and on an incorrect assumption that the sun was burning according to the standard oxygen-fuel model--being as nuclear fusion had not yet been discovered.

    You do not have to be an atheist to practice good science. Many, many men and women of faith have no problem with scientific thought and principles, because they understand that science is not a -threat- to their beliefs, but rather a -celebration- of them. If your faith is so fragile that anything which does not read exactly according to your preconceived notion, your personal interpretation, of what the bible says is counted as a threat, then the problem lies not with science, but with you.

    And I'm not posting as an Anonymous Coward because, unlike you, I can stand behind my words.
  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @02:49PM (#22678552)

    I've heard these sweeping statements before, can anyone point out a reasonably accessible proof that overcomes basic statistical counterarguments?
    What basic statistical counterargument do you think you can make? You can't make any unless you know what the error bars are, which you've just admitted you don't.

    Anyway, you can't prove anything in science, so I don't know what kind of a "proof" you're looking for. You can merely show that the data are highly consistent with one set of assumptions, and inconsistent with another. But it's always possible that there are a third set of assumptions with which the data are also consistent. Possible, however, does not mean plausible; as more kinds of data accumulate, it grows harder to construct alternate theories that are consistent with a growing body of evidence. Which is the point of science.

    I can infer some interesting characteristics about gravity by splashing paint on my wall and studying the results from across the room, but I don't really have enough data to overcome a host of other contributing factors...
    The WMAP data set is quite a lot of data, actually, and "a host of other contributing factors" are studied in this analysis.

    In particular, see Section 5.2.4 and Figure 19 of this paper [nasa.gov] for the assumptions made and factors considered in this conclusion.
  • by fourchannel ( 946359 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:10PM (#22678914) Homepage
    2^64 seconds = 584,542,046,090 years, so about another 570,792,046,090 years.
  • by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:19PM (#22679068) Homepage
    You've gotta read Gerald Schroeder's [geraldschroeder.com] books. They're written for the non-physicist, and they explain how the "6-days of creation" frame of reference is a quite logical frame of reference -- it's not arbitrary.
  • by brunascle ( 994197 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:23PM (#22679140)

    If space is all expanding, how can we even tell?
    we can tell that other objects are moving away from us because of the Doppler redshift [wikipedia.org] of light coming too us. the further the object is from us, the greater the redshift, meaning that the further the object the faster it's moving away from us.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionar ... m ['oo.' in gap]> on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:28PM (#22679234) Journal
    That wiki page says that it expired in Canada in 1985, which has life+50 year copyright terms. But this figure does not jibe with the date the author died. The page goes on to claim that in countries that have a life+70 year, it will expire in 2008, while in the US it will expire in 2030. Something is off.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by jmilne ( 121521 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:40PM (#22679436)

    Zeus created the universe from Mt. Olympus

    The Titans did all the hard work. All Zeus did was lead a hostile revolt and spread his Olympian seed everywhere.

  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by clonan ( 64380 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:45PM (#22679516)
    But Zeus DIDN'T create the Universe...

    If I recall my Greek mythology, Gia gave birth to the Titans, which were led by Cronus who is the father of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Hades and a few others. Cronus didn't want a successor so he ate every child Rhea (his wife and sister) had until Zeus, the youngest, who she hid until he grew up and rescued his siblings from the stomach of Cronus.

    Zeus was the master of the heavens but he didn't create them :-)
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:5, Informative)

    by clonan ( 64380 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:49PM (#22679600)
    The religious argument is that God has always existed and will always exist and therefore does not need a creator and does not raise the question of what came before..

    While unprovable, it is at least consistent.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:4, Informative)

    by insertwackynamehere ( 891357 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:57PM (#22679730) Journal
    Ahh you're forgetting, Gaia gave birth to the Titans because of Uranus the god of the Cosmos. Later they split up and she got with the God of the Oceans.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bob-taro ( 996889 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @03:57PM (#22679742)

    Most Bible Thumpers have it totally wrong. IF they actually read the bible, they would have found that the earth was NOT actually created in 6 or 7 days. YES YES That is the GENESIS account, BUT, the original hebrew/aramaic translations describe a day as a period or era (really undetermined period of time) Psalms describes that a day with God is as a thousand years (let you look it up for yourself). this does not mean day with God IS a thousand years. It really just means a day is a long long time. hence AS a thousand years and not IS a thousand years. SO it is plausible he created the universe AND still have the big bang theory still be in harmony. Except that Scientists don't want to accept that and Zealot, fundamentalist religionsists do not want to acknoledge this.

    You are overlooking the words "...And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day.". A literal reading pretty much limits that to one solar day. If you are looking for room for an old earth, you need go no farther than Gen 1:1-2 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ". This is before the "first day", so the creation of the heavens and the earth could have taken any amount of time. Again, if you take it literally the sun and moon and stars are created a few days later. I don't see anyway to reconcile the scientific theories of origins with a literal reading of Genesis. I'm saying this as an open minded Christian who has a Physics degree.

    One day we WILL know the absolute truth of it.

    On what do you base that belief?

  • by abigor ( 540274 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:06PM (#22679884)

    First of all, don't assume that that everyone who thinks the Earth is older than 6,000 years is an atheist. Albert Einstein, for instance, was certainly not an atheist.
    "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

    From a letter Einstein wrote in English, dated 24 March 1954. It is included in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, published by Princeton University Press.

    Einstein was actually an outspoken atheist.
  • Re:I reiterate (Score:5, Informative)

    by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:11PM (#22679952)
    Check out wikipedia and the incredible things WMAP has done. We learned a HUGE amount about the universe with this satellite. We now know the average temperature of the universe (2.7K). We now know Omega. We now know whether the universe is curved or flat. We now know the dispersion of microwaves from the big bang. We now have a much better picture of the acceleration of the expanding universe. In essence, WMAP cleared up a HUGE number of questions from the 1980's and 1990's regarding the cosmos.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by rnelsonee ( 98732 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:23PM (#22680160)
    It goes beyond that - of the four creation stories in the Bible, two are located in Genesis. Genesis 1:1-2:4 is one story, and another is in 2:4-2:25. One of the most redeemable things about the ever-popular KJV Bible is that it preserved the translations of the old Hebrew, so it's trivial to separate them out and identify which story is which. When the bible says 'the Lord' they meant one story (stories from the older Judea, who called God "Elohim"), and 'God' is the newer, Israelite stories ("Yaweh").

    This becomes fascinating when you see other stories such as Noahs' Ark. While we are familiar with two of every animal, 40 days and nights, and a dove showing up, another version is told alongside it with seven of each animal, 150 days/nights, and a raven showing up.

    Anywho, yeah, of the two stories in Genesis, the first (popular) one says the first day comes about *after* earth is created. So God makes the earth in some amount of time, and *then* populates it in 6 days (or, 6 'whatever's, as you correctly pointed out)

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:30PM (#22680270)

    Okay, just of the intellectual exercise:

    1. Even the church doesn't believe the 6000 year old figure. This is evidence that it's true?

    2. There is extensive evidence that the land surface rises and falls. We can measure it with GPS (both rising and sinking). There are marine fossils at the tops of mountains. There are pictures of it happening: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/762047.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    3. Creationists seem to be the only ones to use figures like 6 feet / year. The highest I found from non-creationist sources is 3.8 feet / year. According to Lyell's figures for the length of the gorge, that makes the FALLS 9,000 years old, assuming erosion has been at a constant rate (why would it be?). That can put a (rough) minimum on the age of the planet, I suppose, but it has nothing whatsoever to say about the maximum age. Maybe if ALL gorges showed evidence of being that age we might get suspicious. But they don't.

    4. Large (and small) scale structures, as well as the spacing of the planets, is quite adequately explained with physics. As for dark matter, that seems a much simpler hypothesis than an omnipotent, universe creating super being. We have observed long period comets that most certainly could have survived for more than a few thousand years in their present orbits. Most comets (even the ones we can see!) are not short period like Halley's.

    5. Helmholtz didn't even know what powered the sun. Hint: it's not a lump of coal. The mass of the sun does decrease over time, but only imperceptibly. This is a very silly point.

    6. Gee, someone made up a number for dust falling on the Earth, guessed a similar number for the moon (why? the moon is smaller!), and it turned out to be wrong. Actual observations showed that it was wrong. That's how science works.

    7. Kelvin didn't know much about radiation. The internal heat of the planet is nicely explained by radiation. There are other types of radioactive decay other than alpha radiation that do not produce helium. What is the justification for the statement that helium does not escape from the atmosphere? There's quite good evidence that it does escape, along with (and faster than) most other atmospheric components.

    8. I don't know much about the dead sea, but some of the salt does end up on dry land, in large domes and other salt features, as the sea has been shrinking for the last twenty thousand years (and still is today). Salt is also deposited underwater, so a simple multiplication of the volume of water by the average dissolved salt content would be inaccurate. There are also known to be extensive salt deposits under the bed of the lake. Springs at the bottom might also mean a filtering process similar to the one that occurs in the ocean at deep sea vents. Apparently the creationists don't like the numbers they get even by simple division, so they invoke the vents to divide the number again by "about half."

    9. Are you kidding? We have historical records of population growth that show that its definitely not purely exponential at 2.4 children per family. You can pull that off today only because of modern health care and the comparably high level of wealth that the majority of people enjoy. Population growth exploded with the agricultural revolution. It didn't grow anywhere near as fast before that. This is a matter of record.

    10. This point shows a very bad minunderstanding of radioactive decay and dating techniques, which do not form the majority of evidence for a planet older than 6000 years anyway. Supernovas change decay rates? Very, VERY slightly, and only electron capture decay. Supernova data overall SUPPORTS the constancy of radioactive decay rates.

    11. How are "living fossils" either an embarrassment, or evidence of a young Earth? These animals were believed to be extinct but were found in small numbers or in very out of the way locations (like the bottom of the ocean. So? If you f
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:46PM (#22680500) Homepage Journal
    For those who are interested, Google came up with this link [sumware.com] to the short.
  • by Ambitwistor ( 1041236 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:46PM (#22680508)
    "Flat" here refers to the curvature of space. In the absence of a cosmological constant, and assuming homogeneity and isotropy, this implies that the universe is balanced on the edge between eternal expansion and recollapse. (Not an equilibrium size, but an eternal expansion that asymptotically slows to a rate of zero.) However, dark energy (at least in the simplest model) implies that a flat universe is no longer "balanced on edge", and in fact its expansion will accelerate eternally.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @04:48PM (#22680528) Homepage Journal
    UT, the original hebrew/aramaic translations describe a day as a period or era (really undetermined period of time)

    Vay'hi erev vay'hi boker, yom echad [sheni, shlishi...]

    Literal translation: And there was evening, and there was morning, one day [the second day, the third day ...]
  • Re:Gee (Score:3, Informative)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:12PM (#22681672) Journal
    The WMAP survey gives a *very* accurate estimate of the moment whn the universe cooled enough to become transparant (called "recombination" even thought "initial combination" would be far more apt). 4 sigificant digits is amazing.

    This measurement says nothing about what came before recombination. It just says that recombination was 13.73 billion years ago, give or take 10 million years. Much of the rest of physics and cosmology says that the univers was about 240,000-310,000 years old [wikipedia.org] when recombination occurred. Even if that 240-310K estimate is way off, you're still left with 13.73 billion years ago, give or take 10 million years.

    Make sense?
  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @06:55PM (#22682234) Journal
    Here's the deal:

    There's a hypothesis that the history of the universe [wikipedia.org] includes a moment called "Recombination". Before Recombination, the Universe was very hot and dense plasma, to the point that it was effectively opaque, and the dominate forces were light pressure and gravity. Recombination was the point where the Universe had cooled and expanded enough that most electrons and protons settled down together as hydrogen atoms, and the universe became transparent.

    The light "in flight" at this time was the microwave background radiation that WMAP studies. Effectively it's a snapshot of the early universe.

    The universe was fairly homogenous at that point, per this hypothesis, consisting of very uniform pockets of matter being compressed by gravity and expanded by light pressure. These pockets would alternately expand and contract in a simple way (acoustic waves) under the influence of these two forces.

    The background radiation should tell us both the size of these pockets and the amount of uniformity.

    The WMAP and earlier probes collect just a few numbers about the size and uniformity of the background radiation, but WMAP collects these numbers to great precision. Foreground radiation sources are easily distinguishable because the background is so very uniform (and most of these sources are easily accounted for from other observations). Of course, there could be some *other* source of background radiation that was nearly uniform across the sky, but was not from Recombination. The current hypothesis, however, makes a lot of predictions that turn out to be accurate.

    The distribution of matter in the early universe lines up well with pre-existing models the explain current matter distribution. The amount of dark matter in the early universe fits pre-existing dark-matters hypotheses quite well. Etc.

    Sure, the hypothesis makes assumptions about where the background radiation comes from, but based on those assumptions the data collected matches what was predicted by several independent measurements and theories. Like everything else in science, its credibility comes from its ability to make useful (falsifiable) predictions.
  • Re:Big Mistake (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alpha830RulZ ( 939527 ) on Friday March 07, 2008 @09:14PM (#22683640)
    Why do you try to paint atheists as if we're one thing? Your statement has no connection at all to what I and others who don't believe in your god think. The saying, "Atheism is a religion, like not collecting stamps is a hobby" couldn't be more appropriate. The only thing that is common among atheists is that they don't believe in a god. Period.

    This particular atheist doesn't know what created the universe, or what came 'before' the universe. The data seems to support a big band theory, and those cosmologists haven't figured out what might have existed before the big bang. I'm inclined to continue to let them do the heavy lifting there, and enlighten me as they find out more. Other atheists may well think differently, I won't presume to speak for them.

    I don't have the answer. Lacking the answer, I still don't think that making up fairy tales gets me any closer to whatever the answer may be.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva