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Australian scientists confirm Einstein's abandoned Big Bang theory
( 2001-05-24 16:27 ) (7 )

An Australian-led team of international scientists claimed Tuesday to have confirmed Albert Einstein's "dark energy" theory, which he developed in the 1930s but later abandoned.

The theory, which Einstein dismissed as his "greatest mistake", holds that the majority of the universe is made up of dark energy, an unknown quantity that fuels the constant expansion of the universe.

So why is that important? Because it confirms the existence of the Big Bang theory of how the universe came into existence, Australian National University (ANU) cosmologist Matthew Colless said Tuesday.

The conclusions of Colless and his colleagues from the ANU and from universities in Britain and the United States followed a decade-long mission to map the history of the known universe.

Colless said the results of what was officially called the "Two Degree Field Galaxy Red Shift Survey" allowed scientists to compare the universe at the time of the Big Bang with how it appeared 300,000 years later and now -- 12 billion years later.

"It's allowing us to confirm that our theories for how the universe formed are correct," said Colless, a cosmologist and research fellow at the ANU's Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Theories of what happened in the period immediately after the Big Bang -- known as the "Planck time" (so named after German physicist Max Planck) allowed the team to trace most of the history of how the universe formed.

"We're able to draw together these three distant epochs and see how our models compare," Colless told AFP.

The Planck time is the fraction of a second after the Big Bang occurred when the shape and volume of the stars and galaxies was first determined, and these formations took 300,000 years to settle into the patterns astronomers see today.

Cosmologists in Australia, Britain and the United States have mapped all 170,000 galaxies in the universe and found subtle differences in the amount of matter found in different regions of space.

These differences, captured on a specially-built spectrometer placed over the lens of Australia's biggest telescope, illustrate the way the universe expanded in its formative years and confirms important astrophysical theories.

Colless said the greatest breakthrough was the confirmation of Einstein's dark energy theory, which the great scientist abandoned because he did not believe the rate of universal expansion demanded by the theory was feasible.

Colless and his colleagues say they can now boast of knowing the "geometry of the universe": it is made up of five percent ordinary matter, 25 percent dark matter and 70 percent Einstein's dark energy.

But their quest is far from complete -- while everything from a paper cup to Alpha Centauri is composed of ordinary matter, science is yet to determine what the other 95 percent of the universe is made of.

Dark matter is manifest only in the gravitational effects it has on stars and galaxies while dark energy hasn't even entered the theoretical sphere, save for its role in the universe's expansion.

Colless believes it will be at least another decade before cosmologists have the answers to these questions.



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