Is the universe actually shrinking?

February 3, 2015 by Fraser Cain, Universe Today
Representation of the timeline of the universe over 13.7 billion years, and the expansion in the universe that followed. Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team.

Whoa, here's something to think about. Maybe the Universe isn't expanding at all. Maybe everything is actually just shrinking, so it looks like it's expanding. Turns out, scientists have thought of this.

There are some people who would have you believe the Universe is expanding. They're peddling this idea it all started with a bang, and that expansion is continuing and accelerating. Yet, they can't tell us what force is causing this acceleration. Just "", or some other JK Rowling-esque sounding thing. Otherwise known as the acceleration that shall not be named, and it shall be taught in the class which follows potions in 3rd period.

I propose to you, faithful viewer, an alternative to this expansionist conspiracy. What if distances are staying the same, and everything is in fact, shrinking? Are we destined to compress all the way down to the Microverse? Is it only a matter of time before our galaxy starts drinking its coffee from a thimble or perhaps sealed in a pendant hanging on Orion's belt? So, could we tell if that's actually what's going on?

The first horrible and critical assumption here is that shrinking objects and an expanding universe would look exactly the same, which without magic or handwaving just isn't the case. But you don't have to take my word for it, we have science to punch holes in our Shrink-truther conspiracy.

Let's start with distances. If we assumed the Earth and everything on it was getting smaller, we'd also be shrinking things like meter sticks. In the past they would have been larger. If everything was larger in the past, including the length of a meter, this means the speed of light would have appeared slower in the past. So was the speed of light slower in the past? I'm afraid it wasn't, which really hobbles the shrinky-dink plot. But how do we know that?

You've probably seen before or at least heard them referenced. Scientists use them to determine the of materials. A changing speed of light would affect the spectral lines of distant objects, and because some people are just super smart and were able to do the math on this, we know that when we look at distant gas clouds we find the speed of light has changed no more than one part in a billion over the past 7 billion years.

Shrinking objects would also become more dense over time. This means that the universal constant of gravity should appear smaller in the past. Some have actually studied this, to determine whether it has changed over time, and they've also seen no change.

The diagram shows the electromagnetic spectrum, the absorption of light by the Earth’s atmosphere and illustrates the astronomical assets that focus on specific wavelengths of light. ALMA at the Chilean site and with modern solid state electronics is able to overcome the limitations placed by the Earth’s atmosphere. Credit: Wikimedia, T.Reyes

If objects in the Universe were shrinking, the Universe would actually be collapsing. If galaxies weren't moving away from each other, their gravity would cause them to start falling toward each other. If they were shrinking, assuming their mass doesn't change, their gravity would be just as strong, so shrinking wouldn't stop their mutual attraction. A Universe of shrinking objects would look exactly opposite to what we observe.

So, good news. We're pretty sure that objects, and us, and all other things in the Universe are not shrinking. We're still not sure why anyone would name a thing Shrinky Dinks. Especially a craft toy marketed at children.

Artists illustration of the expansion of the Universe. Credit: NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center

Explore further: Why is Andromeda coming toward us?

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24 comments

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movementiseternal
Feb 03, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
SteveS
5 / 5 (6) Feb 03, 2015
Is the universe actually shrinking?


Do light bulbs emit light or suck dark?

:-)
Tangent2
5 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2015
If we assumed the Earth and everything on it was getting smaller, we'd also be shrinking things like meter sticks. In the past they would have been larger.


That is quite the assumption.. especially when considering reference frames of the observer. If the observer is shrinking too (and would be, since the whole universe is shrinking!) then how would that observer know that the meter is shrinking?

Reminds me of that joke in Big Bang Theory tv show where Sheldon dreamed he was a giant, but everything around him was to his scale, and the only way he knew he was a giant was that he was wearing size 1 million pants. How do we gauge our size without anything pre labeled for us?
Modulus64
not rated yet Feb 03, 2015
Wouldn't it make more sense that all dimensions of all objects were growing and so was the space in between? Then you would have what looks like expansion and also what seems to be gravity on the surface of planets and stars.
Urgelt
1 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2015
I'd feel better about the 'accelerating expansion of the universe' if we knew for sure that Lorentz was wrong.

Einstein's SR describes reciprocal time dilation - which is a type of time dilation that doesn't need to be subtracted from red shit to get actual velocities.

Lorentz wasn't so sure. His Absolute Lorentz Transformation treats time dilation as directional - in which case failing to subtract it from red shift yields gross errors in measurements.

So, it's obvious Einstein was right, you say?

He may have been. But we have conducted exactly no experiments which show that reciprocal, rather than directional, time dilation with respect to distant cosmological objects is correct. In fact there aren't even any local experiments which demonstrate reciprocal time dilation. The only local experiment which teases out the difference is GPS, which only works correctly with directional time dilation.

Assumptions should always be nailed down, if at all possible.
EnsignFlandry
not rated yet Feb 03, 2015
If you cannot tell the difference between the two situations, then maybe both are wrong.
liquidspacetime
1 / 5 (4) Feb 03, 2015
Our Universe is a larger version of a galactic polar jet.

'Was the universe born spinning?'
http://physicswor...ws/46688

"The universe was born spinning and continues to do so around a preferred axis"

Our Universe spins around a preferred axis because it is a larger version of a galactic polar jet.

'Mysterious Cosmic 'Dark Flow' Tracked Deeper into Universe'
http://www.nasa.g...023.html

"The clusters appear to be moving along a line extending from our solar system toward Centaurus/Hydra"

The clusters are headed along this path because our Universe is a larger version of a polar jet.

It's not the Big Bang; it's the Big Ongoing.

Dark energy is dark matter continuously emitted into the Universal jet.
Losik
Feb 04, 2015
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Losik
Feb 04, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Grallen
not rated yet Feb 04, 2015
I like weird ideas like this. Makes you pause a second to think about what we take for granted.
Losik
Feb 04, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
zaxxon451
5 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2015
I've noticed definite shrinkage as I've gotten older. I think they might be onto something here.
PsycheOne
not rated yet Feb 07, 2015
My understanding is that an expanding universe does not mean that every object in the universe is expanding. If that were the case, there would be no way to know that the universe was expanding. It is that galaxies are moving away from each other. The galaxies themselves are not expanding. And atoms are certainly not expanding.

So I would expect a shrinking universe to behave the same way. But if so, I doubt that the measurements of expansion would also be indicative of shrinking. Though there might be other explanations for the apparent expansion.
Losik
Feb 07, 2015
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Losik
Feb 07, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
RealityCheck
1 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2015
@Fraser Cain. From your article:
If we assumed the Earth and everything on it was getting smaller, we'd also be shrinking things like meter sticks. In the past they would have been larger. If everything was larger in the past, including the length of a meter, this means the speed of light would have appeared slower in the past. So was the speed of light slower in the past? I'm afraid it wasn't,
The OBVERSE of your above logic/argument would then imply "EXPANDING of meter sticks" in an 'expansing universe'; and by that same kind of logic/argument, "speed of light would have appeared FASTER in the past", wouldn't it?

See what you've just done there, Fraser? Your basis for [correctly] dismissing 'shrinking universe' can also, by logical obverse, equally [correctly] dismiss 'expanding universe'!

So in one fell swoop you unwittingly argue Occam's Razor basis for an overall infinite 'steady state' universe wherein LOCAL phenomena/features/dynamics evolve/devolve eternally. :)
Returners
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2015
So in one fell swoop you unwittingly argue Occam's Razor basis for an overall infinite 'steady state' universe wherein LOCAL phenomena/features/dynamics evolve/devolve eternally. :)


There's just one problem. Entropy forbids the universe to be eternal, unless the laws governing Entropy are in fact limited.

The stars are all supposed to burn out one day, the cores of all planets die and they cool to near absolute zero. The electron, proton, and neutron decay, etc. All that is supposed to happen according to the existing model.

Then the energy is diffuse throughout an ever-expanding space-time until no two particles are within a light horizon radius of one another, then we can say nothing in particular.

Where are the first photons? they are as far away as is possible to be? 13.8 billion light years beyond the farthest point of an atomic particle?

If the CMB is that light coming from "out there" then where does the light go in the opposite direction?
Returners
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 08, 2015
Apparently the Bible did get something right after all: Light was the first thing created. I don't know how they knew that, but we know that Light and the Speed of light is important to the very workings of matter itself. They somehow equated light with goodness and with the fabric of reality itself, even though there was no formal theory of matter for another thousand years after Genesis was written down. light is also used as a symbol for God himself.

Anyway, it is important for us to understand not just the description of a model, but the physical mechanism that mediates these events.

Why does a dot product and a cross product work if space is "nothing"? the spacial component of the vector is tying the force to the spacial reality, therefore the space must be a thing, and not just an arbitrary coordinate system. The coordinate may be arbitrary, but the space is a thing which affects material properties of other things. "Nothing" doesn't do that.
RealityCheck
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2015
Hi Returners. Still busy, but you're polite, so I gladly make time to reply to your points; briefly:

- "Entropy" is a concept not relating to infinity/eternity states of dynamics which have no beginning and no end as such. Change occurs over infinity/eternity across every 'localized' temporary/transient states/volumes/processes. The "recycling" evolution/devolution up/down all scales/forms 'degrees of freedom' range of physical possibilities.

- All 'transient' decay/devolution 'products/energy' forms and features will, due to infinity/eternity aspect, be eventually re-engaged by/in subsequent 'localized' epochs of recycling/processing.

- Underlying energy-space (whence everything arises and evolves) eventually reverts back to 'states' that form the available energy-space content/possibilities for 'next' localized processes.

- Consider: Over epochs, all 'local' volumes effectively involve 'incoming/outgoing' energy-space 'balance'.

Ok, Returners? Cheers. Bye. :)
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2015
The universe is expanding. Your brains are shrinking
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Feb 23, 2015
Maybe all the cars on 95 heading to florida did not originate from the arctic. Maybe the idea of a constant speed of light is only for the emitter but not for the observer; hence, the redshift. Maybe there exist a maximum density that results in an explosion. Consider a wavelet emitted with lambda e and observed with lambda o and the wavelength divided by the period is constant, yet the wave-front moves at a speed relative to the observer. Consider the wavelet passing a line within a moving frame relative to the source, the observer, will see the entire wavelet pass in the observed period; therefore, the relative speed of the wave-front would be Lamda emitted divided by this period, length over time, i.e. think of the wave as a stick that is either shrunk or expanded. Don't carry this idea to matter, the wave constant c is not true for actual matter or particles. GR? So maybe we are blinded by our erroneous physics! So all this just might be so much to do about nothing.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Feb 23, 2015
Would we exist if matter simply kept getting denser? So is our interpretation correct? Of course not, we have theory that no-one really knows what it means. Does not sound like science, but SYFY! Science is definitive, anything else is only conjecture. QM and reality are two different things, with interpretations done by the ill informed and poorly educated. GR is a theory from a demented scientist without empiricism. The audience acceptance of such is mind boggling! No one is challenging the validity of stupidity! PhD in what? Nonsense! Mass requires a much better definition! Giving mass as a transformable reality transforms my mind into putty! Are we so blind that we keep calling the planet flat? i.e. somebody's erroneous idea! Reality is so much clearer.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Feb 23, 2015
Gravity may be explained with superposition, the charge centers,+ and -, obviously do not occupy the same location at the same time all the time, and the rate of change of the charge centers within any appreciable mass would be too fast to observe as anything but the gravitational force. Since different charge polarities are closer together than like charges, an attractive force is observed, charges will always comply, hence Gravity. Nothing as esoteric as modifying our conceptual space. If we give Nobles to people professing the inane Big Bang, why not one for bringing us back to reality, I could use the acceptance, as would the world.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Feb 23, 2015
The gluon of the standard model is unnecessary. A proton and electron confinement will hold the nucleus together, i.e. neutron. Hence a Noble for the Higgs is somewhat ingratiating.

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