Berkeley Magazine, Fall 1998


What Einstein described as the "biggest blunder" of his life may turn out to have been right on the mark after all, based on a new discovery by Berkeley astronomers and their colleagues.

The discovery, confirmed separately by research teams on campus and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggests the universe is not only expanding, but doing so ever more quickly. Last December, Science magazine named the discovery as 1998's top science breakthrough.

The two teams found that nearby supernovas -- exploding stars -- are moving faster than older supernovas billions of light years away.

This is good news for Einstein, who reluctantly adjusted his general relativistic equations describing the universe to account for a static cosmos, only to throw out the fudge factor when astronomers showed the universe was actually expanding.

But, however pleased Einstein might be, this is bad news for the universe.

"The ultimate fate of the universe is to expand forever, and to become cold and dark," said Alex Filippenko, a member of the Berkeley supernova search team. This is because, as the stars move further and further away from each other -- and from us -- their light will dim to nothing.

But don't fret just yet. Filippenko expects it will be a thousand trillion years before the lights finally go out.

Return to main Discoveries page

Telescope with streaking stars

[Table of Contents] [Berkeley Magazine Home] [UC Berkeley Home Page]

Copyright 2000, Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Comments? E-mail