If the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, then is it correct that the universe cannot be bigger than 13.8 billion light years, as …

If the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, then is it correct that the universe cannot be bi… by Miguel Múgica

Answer by Miguel Múgica:

No, the observable universe is actually estimated to be 92 billion light years in diameter.

This is a very frequent and perfectly reasonable question.

The answer lies on the fact that nothing prevents the universe itself from expanding faster than light.

Is special relativity violated then? No. For the sake of simplicity I’ll use the typical balloon analogy. Let’s imagine a balloon (spherical of course, this is physics) representing the space in 2 dimensions, and dots on the surface. Special relativity says that two points cannot move through space (i.e. through the balloon surface) faster than light with respect to each other.

Now, the movement derived from the expansion of space itself, is not a movement of the dots and these do not experience any acceleration. If we inflate the balloon this makes the dots to get farther away, and this distancing is faster as more space is in between them. The fact that the away velocity is proportional to their distance is known as Hubble's law.

This distancing derived from the expansion of the universe can be faster than light. In fact, the current inflationary theory says that during the very first instants of the universe (from [math]10^{−35}[/math] to [math]10^{−34}[/math]seconds) the universe multiplied its size by a factor of [math]e^{50}−e^{70}[/math].

If the Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago, then is it correct that the universe cannot be bigger than 13.8 billion light years, as …

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