Was Albert Einstein wrong about the cosmological constant?

Expansion Mirage

A new theoretical physics study suggests that the expansion of the universe may be an illusion — a controversial new mathematical model that could shed light on the nature of dark matter.

In an interview with Live Science about the study, which was published earlier this month in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity, University of Geneva theoretical physicist and author Lucas Lombriser said his new hypothesis takes a fresh look at the long-established theory surrounding the accelerating expansion of the universe.

"In this work," Lombriser told Live Science via email, "we put on a new pair of glasses to look at the cosmos and its unsolved puzzles by performing a mathematical transformation of the physical laws that govern it."

"I was surprised that the cosmological constant problem simply seems to disappear in this new perspective on the cosmos," Lombriser told Live Science.

Redshift, Green Light

Longstanding hypotheses suggest that redshift — the stretching of light wavelengths toward the redder end of the color spectrum as an object moves away from the viewer — is an indicator of an expanding universe because further-off galaxies have higher redshift than those closer to us.

More recently, astrophysicists have hypothesized that the rate of universal expansion is accelerating — a process that's denoted as the cosmological constant or lambda.

Lambda, as Live Science notes, has been a problematic concept since Albert Einstein described it more than 100 years ago because observations don't match up with astrophysicists' predictions, leading them to propose new particles or forces to explain the discrepancy.

Theoretically Speaking

Lombriser, however, suggests that Einstein may have been right the first time before coming up with the cosmological constant when he argued that the universe is flat and static.

The astrophysicist suggests that particles are the ones changing in mass, accounting for the difference in redshift — and not the expansion of the universe.

When it comes to explaining dark matter, which is believed to make up 80 percent of the mass of the universe, but can't be observed directly, Lombriser's study suggests that the strange material could work like an axion field, a hypothetical particle that's considered one of the top contenders for dark matter's identity.

Fluctuations in this field could even mean "there is, in principle, no need for dark energy," as Lombriser told Live Science, referring to the mysterious force that drives galaxies apart at an accelerating rate.

The theory may seem somewhat outlandish given how well-established the expanding universe theory is, but seeing how much trouble the cosmological constant has caused, it's probably worth considering.

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