This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – brightrecruits.com can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today

Blog

How old is the universe?

ussher.jpg

By Hamish Johnston

About 13.7 billion years is the best estimate for the age of the universe, but how did scientists reach this conclusion and what twists and turns were encountered along the way?

That was the question that the BBC’s Melvyn Bragg put to three astronomers this morning on his radio programme In Our Time. Bragg’s guests were Martin Rees – Britain’s Astronomer Royal – Carolin Crawford of the University of Cambridge and Carlos Frenk of the University of Durham.

Bragg begins with James Ussher’s pronouncement of 1654 that the Earth was formed at 6 p.m. on 22 October 4004 BC. Ussher (right) was Archbishop of Armagh and this date was the result of painstaking historical and biblical research.

This Old Testament view of creation endured until the 19th century, when geological evidence and the new theory of evolution suggested that the Earth was at least hundreds of millions of years old – a figure championed by none other than Charles Darwin.

At first, however, evidence from the heavens seemed to contradict earthbound data. Indeed Lord Kelvin calculated that the Sun was at most a few million years old. His argument – which assumed that our star is heated by gravitational energy – was so persuasive that it made Darwin doubt his geological and evolutionary observations.

The discovery of radioactive fission muddied the waters even more. On one hand it suggested that the Earth was as much as three billion years old, but it could not ascribe a similar longevity to the Sun. Eventually, estimates for the ages of the Earth, Sun and the universe fell into line thanks to the work of astronomers, astrophysicists and cosmologists.

To hear more details of the various theories about the age of the universe – including Newton’s rather elegant proof that the cosmos is at equilibrium and therefore ageless – listen to Bragg’s programme here.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines

  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="http://www.google.com">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="http://iop.org/">IOP</blockquote>
IOP
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/index.html">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux