Expanding Universe

The galaxies we see in all directions are moving away from the Earth, as evidenced by their red shifts. Hubble's law describes this expansion.


The fact that we see all stars moving away from us does not imply that we are the center of the universe! All stars will see all other stars moving away from them in an expanding universe. A rising loaf of raisin bread is a good visual model: each raisin will see all other raisins moving away from it as the loaf expands.

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Hubble's Law

Hubble's law is a statement of a direct correlation between the distance to a galaxy and its recessional velocity as determined by the red shift. It can be stated as


The value of the Hubble constant is in constant debate, but a current value is

Much of the evidence about quasars is based on the Hubble law, with Hubble constant in the range 40-110 km/sec per megaparsec. A value of 50 corresponds to a measurable universe of size 20 billion light years, or a "look-back" time of 20 billion years to the big bang. An often mentioned problem for the Hubble law is Stefan's Quintet. Four of these five stars have similar red shifts but the fifth is quite different, and they appear to be interacting.

The Particle Data Group documents quote a "best modern value" of the Hubble constant as 72 km/s per megaparsec (+/- 10%). This value comes from the use of type Ia supernovae (which give relative distances to about 5%) along with data from Cepheid variables gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble distance calculation

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Distance measurement

Distance units


Particle Data Group

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Hubble Constant

The proportionality between recession velocity and distance in the Hubble Law is called the Hubble constant, but the value of this proportionality is a source of disagreement. The values proposed by different experimental and theoretical groups range from 50 to 100 km/sec per megaparsec. The lower extreme would point to an age of about 20 billion years, while the higher value indicates about half of that age.

The recession velocities of distant galaxies are known from the red shift, but the distances are much more uncertain. Distance measurement to nearby galaxies uses Cepheid variables as the main standard candle, but more distant galaxies must be examined to determine the Hubble constant since the direct Cepheid distances are all within the range of the gravitational pull of the local cluster. Use of the Hubble Space Telescope has permitted the detection of Cepheid variables in the Virgo cluster and may contribute to settling the distance scale dispute.

Hubble distance calculation

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Hubble Constant and Red Shifts

The Hubble Law states that the distance to a given galaxy is proportional to the recessional velocity as measured by the Doppler red shift. The red shift of the spectral lines is commonly expressed in terms of the z-parameter, which is the fractional shift in the spectral wavelength. The Hubble distance is given by


and can be calculated from the wavelength shift of any spectral line. If a spectral line which is normally at nm is redshifted to nm, then z = and = v/c = .The Hubble distance is given by:

r = c/( km/s/Mpc) = Mpc = Mly

Note: Values may be entered in any of the boxes to perform calculations. If needed parameters have not been entered, then they will default to values for the hydrogen red line with a 10% redshift and a Hubble constant of 70.

Mpc = mega parsecs
Mly = million light years
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Distance measurement
 
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