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A mysterious force is thought to be driving the expansion of the universe, accounting for roughly 68 percent of its contents.
But, new simulations now suggest this ‘dark energy’ may not exist at all.
By taking the changing structure of the universe into account, the researchers argue that accelerated expansion can be explained without the need for dark energy – and, in a way that’s consistent with present observations and general relativity.
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New simulations now suggest ‘dark energy’ may not exist at all. The standard ‘Lambda Cold Dark Matter’ cosmology, which includes dark energy, is shown on left in red. The new Avera model, (middle, blue), explains acceleration without dark energy. The Einstein-de Sitter cosmology, shown in greet, is the original model without dark energy
In the new study, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the researchers argue that the conventional models of the universe fail to address its changing structure.
Instead, they say these models rely on approximations and assume that matter has a uniform density.
‘Einstein’s equations of general relativity that describe the expansion of the universe are so complex mathematically, that for a hundred years no solutions accounting for the effect of cosmic structures have been found,’ said co-author Dr László Dobos of Eötvös Loránd University.
‘We know from very precise supernova observations that the universe is accelerating, but at the same time we rely on coarse approximations to Einstein’s equations which may introduce serious side-effects, such as the need for dark energy, in the models designed to fit the observational data.’
The researchers designed computer simulations to model the effect of gravity on the millions of particles of dark matter distributed throughout the universe.
This elusive type of matter is thought to make up 27 percent of the universe, while ‘regular’ matter accounts for just 5 percent.
In the new ‘Avera model,’ the researchers constructed the evolution of the universe, taking into account the early clumping of matter and the formation of large scale structure.
And, unlike standard simulations which show a smoothly expanding universe, the inclusion of the structure resulted in a model where different regions expand at a different rate.
The average expansion rate, however, remained consistent with present observations, which suggest overall acceleration.
WHAT IS DARK ENERGY?
Dark energy is a phrase used by physicists to describe a mysterious ‘something’ that is causing unusual things to happen in the universe.
‘The universe is not only expanding, but it is expanding faster and faster as time goes by,’ Dr Kathy Romer, scientist at the Dark Energy Survey told MailOnline.
‘What we’d expect is that the expansion would get slower and slower as time goes by, because it has been nearly 14 billion years since the Big Bang.’
Coming up with an equation of state would give the researchers clues about what is making up this mysterious force.
The universe is though to be expanding at an accelerated rate. And, many suspect a mysterious force known as dark energy may play a role
At the moment the favourite candidate is called the ‘cosmological constant’ – which has a relatively boring equation of state.
‘But, despite its simplicity, the cosmological constant is not the ‘something’ that scientists are hoping for,’ Dr Romer said, ‘a cosmological constant then messes up other parts of physics.’
‘It’s like a table plan at a wedding: you think you’ve got it all sorted out and then you notice that, because the caterers gave you a round table instead of a long one, your Dad is now going to be sitting next to your Mum’s new boyfriend.’
According to the researchers, the model shows that dark energy is not necessary to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe.
‘The theory of general relativity is fundamental in understanding the way the universe evolves,’ said Dr Dobos.
‘We do not question its validity; we question the validity of the approximate solutions.
‘Our findings rely on a mathematical conjecture which permits the differential expansion of space, consistent with general relativity, and they show how the formation of complex structures of matter affects the expansion.
‘These issues were previously swept under the rug but taking them into account can explain the acceleration without the need for dark energy.’
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