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Universe is without direction, astronomers say

"We're very glad that our work vindicates what most cosmologists assume," said researcher Daniela Saadeh. "For now, cosmology is safe."

By
Brooks Hays
New research confirms the universe is the same in all directions. Photo by ICL
New research confirms the universe is the same in all directions. Photo by ICL

LONDON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Like an apathetic teenager floundering in school, the universe has no direction. New research confirms what scientists have long believed, that the cosmos is not directionally oriented.

The universe is full of local motion -- spinning stars, orbiting planets, spiraling galaxies. But all astrophysical models are based on the premise that the universe is uniform in all directions.

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It may be expanding or contracting, but it's not moving in one direction more than another.

Scientists at Imperial College London and University College London recently put this assumption through the most rigorous testing yet. Researchers built maps of the cosmic microwave background, the oldest radiation in the universe, using data collected by the European Space Agency's Planck satellite. The new maps offered astronomers, for the first time, a panorama of CMB polarization, or orientation, across the entire sky.

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Researchers modeled how different cosmic orientations might affect CMB polarization. A universe spinning on an axis would generate spiral patterns. A universe expanding along various axes at different speeds would promote elongated hot and cold regions.

None of the predicted orientational signatures were present. As scientists relayed in their latest paper -- published this week in the journal Physical Review Letters -- the maps showed the universe is most likely without direction.

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"This work is important because it tests one of the fundamental assumptions on which almost all cosmological calculations are based: that the universe is the same in every direction," Stephen Feeney, a physicist at ICL, said in a news release. "If this assumption is wrong, and our universe spins or stretches in one direction more than another, we'd have to rethink our basic picture of the universe."

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The case isn't ironclad, but the evidence is strong that the universe is neither stretching nor spinning.

"You can never rule it out completely, but we now calculate the odds that the universe prefers one direction over another at just 1 in 121,000," added Daniela Saadeh, lead study author and UCL researcher. "We're very glad that our work vindicates what most cosmologists assume. For now, cosmology is safe."

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