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The new study supports Einstein's cosmological constant as the source of dark energy and the accelerating expansion of the universe. ((NASA/JPL-Caltech))

Dark energy is real and it is causing spacetime and the universe to expand at an increasing speed, a new study says.

The paper to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, provides the first independent confirmation of both the existence of dark energy and its rate of expansion. It has been put together by a team of 26 scientists including Chris Blake from Melbourne's Swinburne University.

"It shows physicist Albert Einstein was right," said Blake. "Dark energy is a smooth cosmological constant throughout the universe, rather than a change in the laws of gravity."

A hundred years ago scientists believed the universe was steady and unchanging. Einstein invented the cosmological constant to expand the fabric of space-time after his own equations for general relativity wouldn't allow for the cosmos to remain static as expected in a steady state universe.

Soon afterwards, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered the universe was actually expanding, consistent with Einstein's original general relativity theory.

Einstein then removed his cosmological constant describing his failure to predict an expanding universe in theory before it was proven by observation, as his biggest blunder.

Dark energy acceleration

In 1998, astronomers studying distant exploding stars called a Type 1A supernovae discovered that not only was the universe expanding, but that the rate of expansion was accelerating due to some type of unknown force or dark energy. Einstein's cosmological constant was back.

Alternate theory

According to NASA, the new findings contradict an alternate theory that gravity, not dark energy, is the force pushing space apart. The alternate theory says Albert Einstein's concept of gravity is wrong, and gravity becomes repulsive instead of attractive when acting at great distances.

"The acceleration was a shocking discovery, because it showed we have a lot more to learn about physics, " Blake said.

To verify the supernovae findings, Blake and colleagues spent four years using a powerful spectrograph at the Australian Astronomical Observatory to collect data on more than 240,000 galaxies going back over seven billion years to when the cosmos was less than half its current age.

"It showed the growth of structure in the universe, the development of galaxy clusters and super clusters has slowed down," Blake says.

"This implies the most distant parts of the universe which are further back in space-time, have ordinary matter and hence gravity is dominating. But today this antigravity dark energy has taken hold."

Galaxies need personal space

The researchers then looked at the distances between pairs of galaxies.

"The average distance between galaxy pairs is about 500,000,000 light years," says Blake.

"Galaxies tend to grow on compression waves called baryon acoustic oscillations, which spread through the universe. They can be detected as ripples in cosmic microwave background radiation."

According to Blake, "The average distance between these galaxy pairs has also been found to have grown because of the expansion of space-time, and that's further confirmation of an antigravity agent.'

But, Blake admitted that's as much as they currently know.

"Although the exact physics required to explain dark energy still remains a mystery, confirming it exists is a significant step in understanding the origin, evolution and fate of the universe."