Science & Tech

Little giants create a big cosmic controversy

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Universe may be expanding faster than it’s supposed to

A new measuring technique used to determine the distances to a class of stars called “Red Clumps” in the Large Magellanic Cloud produced a much smaller distance than that found by other popular methods of measurement. The smaller distance means that the universe may be expanding faster than previously thought — a finding which has generated controversy among astronomers. “Red Clump stars are very consistent in their brightness, which makes them excellent standard candles for marking milestones in space,” says Kris Stanek, a Hubble Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “However, their apparent brightness in the Large Magellanic Cloud indicates that our galactic neighbor must be some 12 percent closer to us than many astronomers would like.” “Quite often the reaction to our low distance is: ‘It can’t be right, because the age of the universe would be too low!’,” says Stanek. “But astronomers can only measure distances as carefully and as completely as they can and let the cosmological consequences fall where they may.”