My initial reaction is that "this must be wrong" and apparently that's a lot of people's initial reaction according to the article.


My question is, is this study actually making scientists scratch their heads, and, 2nd part, if accurate, how could the 13.78 (or whatever it is) estimate have been wrong, as it seemed to be the result of more and more accurate estimates over time.

One of the two estimates has to be wrong.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps one has to be wrong or our actual understanding is wrong or, perhaps better, incomplete. This is of course ongoing research, as the paper very existence demonstrates. This actually seems to be puzzling as for both results appear to be correct. $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Jul 28, 2019 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Alchimista I find it puzzling too, though the new number is based on a dark energy measurement and dark energy is tricky to measure, so, I kind of get why this might be right, even if it's a surprising claim. I was hoping one of the big brains here could close the door on this one, but perhaps the research is still underway and the door can't be closed just yet. $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Jul 28, 2019 at 16:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Too naive to be an answer, what this says to me is that both calculates ages of the universe might well be wrong. A good number of assumptions go into calculations of the age of the universe. Very old stars, observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and now expansion yield conflicting estimates. That's a good thing, IMHO. It means there is more for future scientists to discover. The day science has the definitive answer to everything is the day science dies. Note well: I am not disputing that the universe is several billion years old. $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2019 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen I have a different take. If we look at the venn diagram, there's what science thinks it's worked out, there's a 2nd bubble of uncertainty and debating theories & there's a 3rd bubble of what science knows it doesn't know with some overlap or fuzzy borders between the 3. I'm OK with oops events like the assumption expansion would be slowing and then wow, it's not. I'm comfortable with working out an estimate that ends up being wrong by 40 magnitudes, because "worth a try". I'm uncomfortable with conclusions based on observations which seem settled and get proved wrong. $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Jul 28, 2019 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ No, it could be that both of them are wrong. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Jul 29, 2019 at 9:23

1 Answer 1


Because some measurements are difficult to make with absolute precision, it often happens that there is some uncertainty about them. The half life of the neutron was once thought to be 12 minutes, but in the 1980s this was amended to 10.5 minutes. In the early days, C14 dating was often substantially out by comparison with dendrochronology and other methods. It depends on the amount of C14 in the atmosphere at any particular time, and when they looked into the matter, scientists found that this varies from one century to another. When they took that factor into account, C14 dates became much more accurate and reliable. Back in the 1970s the age of the universe was thought to be about 15 billion years, but that has been revised to 13.8, and as new data comes in it may need to be revised again. This is why gravitational collapse of the universe has not been entirely ruled out, despite the advent of dark energy, which is thought to be accelerating the expansion when it should be slowing down. It is possible that like some other measurements in science, the dark energy measurement may also need to be revised at a later date.

  • $\begingroup$ I forgot to mention the 40-orders-of-magnitude discrepancy between the vacuum energy density required by quantum mechanics and that established by cosmological observations. Logically, one or the other is long overdue for revision. The very idea is enough to give some QM mechanics a heart attack! $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2019 at 18:57

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