Einstein Claimed: Quasar Clocks Show Universe Was 5 Times Slower Just After the Big Bang

Astrophysics of the time of the Big Bang

In a groundbreaking study, scientists used quasars as cosmic clocks to observe the early universe moving in extreme slow motion, further validating Einstein’s theory of general relativity. By examining data from nearly 200 quasars, hyperactive supermassive black holes at the centers of the first galaxies, the team found that time seemed to flow five times slower when the universe was just over a billion years old.

Observational data from nearly 200 quasars show that Einstein is right again about the time dilation of the cosmos.

Scientists have observed for the first time the early universe running in extreme slow motion, unraveling one of the mysteries of Einstein’s expanding universe.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity means that we should be observing the distant and therefore ancient universe running much more slowly than it does today. However, looking back in time has proved elusive. Scientists have now solved this mystery by using quasars as clocks.

Looking back to a time when the universe was just over a billion years old, we see that time seems to pass five times slower, said the study’s lead author, Professor Geraint Lewis of the School of Physics and the Sydney Institute for Astronomy of the University of Sydney.

If you were there, in this newborn universe, a second would feel like a second but from our position, more than 12 billion years in the future, that first time seems to drag on.

The research was published July 3 in Nature astronomy.

Gerint Lewis

Professor Geraint Lewis of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy of the School of Physics of the University of Sydney. Credit: The University of Sydney

Professor Lewis and his collaborator, Dr. Brendon Brewer of the University of Auckland used observed data from nearly 200 hyperactive supermassive black holes at the centers of the first galaxies to analyze this time dilation.

Thanks to Einstein, we know that time and space are intertwined, and since the dawn of time in the Big Bang singularity, the universe has expanded, said Professor Lewis.

This expansion of space means that our observations of the early universe should appear much slower than today’s time.

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Previously, astronomers have confirmed this slow-motion universe back to about half the age of the universe using supernovae massive exploding stars as standard clocks. But while supernovae are exceedingly bright, they are difficult to observe at the immense distances needed to peer into the early universe.

By observing quasars, this time horizon has been rolled back to just a tenth the age of the universe, confirming that the universe appears to speed up as it ages.

Professor Lewis said: Where supernovae act like a single flash of light, making them easier to study, quasars are more complex, like an ongoing firework display.

What we have done is unravel this firework display, showing that quasars, too, can be used as standard markers of time for the early universe.

Professor Lewis worked with astro-statistician Dr. Brewer to examine details of 190 quasars observed over two decades. Combining the observations taken at different colors (or wavelengths) green light, red light, and into the infrared they were able to standardize the ticking of each quasar. Through the application of Bayesian analysis, they found the expansion of the universe imprinted on each quasars ticking.

With these exquisite data, we were able to chart the tick of the quasar clocks, revealing the influence of expanding space, Professor Lewis said.

These results further confirm Einsteins picture of an expanding universe but contrast earlier studies that had failed to identify the time dilation of distant quasars.

These earlier studies led people to question whether quasars are truly cosmological objects, or even if the idea of expanding space is correct, Professor Lewis said.

With these new data and analysis, however, weve been able to find the elusive tick of the quasars and they behave just as Einsteins relativity predicts, he said.

Reference: Detection of the cosmological time dilation of high-redshift quasars by Geraint F. Lewis and Brendon J. Brewer, 3 July 2023, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-023-02029-2

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