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Expansion of the universe

Hala Ayyash


Expansion of the universe

By Hala Ayyash

Many researchers found that their light was weaker than expected, a sign that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating. Scientists think that dark energy is driving the expansion. The researchers presented their findings in 1998.

The Nobel winners worked in two separate teams: Perlmutter headed up the Supernova Cosmology Project, which began in 1988, while Schmidt and Riess worked on the High-z Supernova Search Team from 1994.

Perlmutter, who has half the prize to himself, is at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California. The other half is shared between Schmidt, who is at the Australian National University in Weston Creek, Australia and Riess, at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

The supernovae that were studied at the time were Type 1a supernovae, the ‘standard candles’ (which have a known luminosity, so that their distance can be worked out from their observed brightness). Astronomers are hoping that other types of supernovae may join them as gauges of cosmic expansion, as this 2010 Nature story, ‘Alternative yardstick to measure the universe’

“Imagine the amazement that the expansion [of the universe] was not slowing down but it was actually accelerating,” said Uppsala University professor Olga Botner during the Nobel Prize announcement in Stockholm Tuesday morning. “The unreal feeling could be likened to the feeling you get if you in your car step on the brake and suddenly you realize that your car is actually accelerating.” The roots for understanding this strange discovery come from Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which provides the modern theory of gravity. Einstein showed that general relativity could explain the unusual motion of Mercury around the sun. In 1917, Einstein realized that he could apply general relativity to understand how gravity operates over the whole universe, on the scale of galaxies and larger. 

“Perhaps the most striking prediction of his [Einstein's] theory — and I don’t think he even realized this prediction — is that gravity isn’t always attractive, that it can be repulsive,” said Michael Turner, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. In Isaac Newton’s classical theory, gravity can only be attractive. 

General relativity allowed for the possibility that the universe was either expanding or contracting, when the common notion of the day was that the universe was staying the same size. Trying to remedy this discrepancy, Einstein introduced something in the equations of general relativity called a “cosmological constant” that would balance out the universe — something he later called his greatest blunder.


But by the early 1920s, astronomical observations by numerous scientists showed that the universe was indeed expanding. Using a telescope atop Mount Wilson in southern California, Edwin Hubble and others looked at the Andromeda galaxy and saw evidence that it was moving away from our Milky Way galaxy. Hubble and others did this by measuring the light from bright, pulsating stars. By measuring how much the stars’ movement altered their natural light — making it appear more red — they could determine how fast the star was moving away from our galaxy, similar to how a siren becomes lower pitched as it speeds away. Hubble and others saw that a galaxy’s distance from Earth was proportional to its speed. Farther galaxies were moving away at a faster rate than closer galaxies. Space, it seemed, was expanding. These observations led to the Big Bang theory, which states that all the matter in the universe was initially in a compacted hot dense state before rapidly expanding outward into the universe we see today.

In recent years, Muslims have begun to proclaim that the Qur’an contains scientific observations only discovered in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, Muslims (in the 21st century) now believe that the Qur’an reveals that the universe will expand to a limit, stop its expansion, then collapse into itself. Several Qur’anic verses are used to support this Islamic view of the universe. Below are modern translations of the Qur’an found on the Internet on some Islamic websites. These Islamic web sites describe both the expanding universe and the collapse of the universe. Let’s begin with the expanding universe interpretation of the Qur’an.

Since the earlier English translations of Surah 51:47 do not use the word “expanding,” it is important to acknowledge that the most recent translations are hypothetical. Therefore, it is appropriate to question the translation that uses the word, “expanding.” 

Nevertheless, some Muslims will insist that the Qur’an does support using the word “expanding” for translation into English. Therefore, let’s assume that the Qur’an does contain the “expanding universe” as a scientific observation written into its texts. Would this verify that the Qur’an comes from God?


This is the most important question to answer with logic and available evidence. Let’s begin with the method that humans have used to make scientific observations. To make scientific observations, humans simply observe, then write their observation(s) on paper. A systematic collection of observations is usually made. And as humans have become capable of making precise measurements, better conclusions can be made of the observations using applied physics and math.