Key Takeaways:

  1. Astronomers’ latest survey hints at a significant discrepancy in our understanding of dark energy, suggesting its potential variability over time.
  2. Initial findings from the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) challenge the assumption of dark energy’s constancy, presenting a dynamic picture of cosmic evolution.
  3. The discovery, though preliminary, carries implications for the fate of the universe, potentially altering long-held predictions about its ultimate destiny.
  4. Scientists express cautious optimism about revising cosmological models to accommodate the newfound complexity of dark energy.
  5. DESI’s groundbreaking methodology offers a promising avenue for deeper exploration into the mysteries of dark energy, ushering in a new era of cosmological inquiry.

The announcement by astronomers engaged in what they describe as the most extensive and accurate survey to date of the universe’s history, suggesting a potential flaw in their comprehension of dark energy, the enigmatic force driving the universe’s expansion.

Previously, dark energy was presumed to maintain a constant influence over the universe, both presently and throughout cosmic history. However, recent data indicates a potential variability, suggesting it could fluctuate in strength over time, possibly even reversing or diminishing.

Adam Riess, an astronomer from Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, remarked, “It’s a significant development,” drawing parallels with a statement by President Biden. Riess, who was not involved in the study, shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to dark energy research. He noted, “It may provide the first substantial insight into the nature of dark energy in a quarter-century.”

This revelation, if substantiated, could challenge a long-held grim prediction regarding the universe’s ultimate fate. Previously, a constant dark energy would inevitably lead to the dispersal of stars and galaxies, potentially tearing atoms apart and draining the universe of vitality, light, and thought, condemning it to eternal desolation. However, the possibility of variable dark energy suggests a more optimistic trajectory for the cosmos.

Notably, the uncertainty surrounding this finding stands at about one-in-400, falling short of the gold standard for discovery, which requires a one-in-1.7 million likelihood. History has shown that even events with a five-sigma certainty can be refuted with additional data or refined interpretations.

These findings emerge from the initial progress report of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI), a multinational collaboration embarking on a five-year mission to map the positions and velocities of 40 million galaxies across 11 billion years. The preliminary map, based on one year of observations, includes six million galaxies. The results were presented at the American Physical Society meeting in Sacramento, California, and the Rencontres de Moriond conference in Italy.

DESI has generated the largest-ever 3-D map of the universe. Earth is depicted at the bottommost point of one magnified section.Credit…Claire Lamman/DESI collaboration; Custom Colormap Package by cmastro

Michael Levi, DESI’s director, stated, “While our initial findings align with the current model of the universe, there are intriguing discrepancies that suggest dark energy’s potential evolution over time.”

Nathalie Palanque-Delabrouille, an astrophysicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and DESI spokesperson, expressed surprise at the early findings, which diverged from expectations. She stated, “We anticipated confirming the standard model, but instead, we encountered the unexpected.”

Upon combining their map with other cosmological data, researchers discovered inconsistencies with the standard model, hinting at a variable nature of dark energy. While not yet definitive evidence, these findings are considered significant by cosmologists.

Wendy Freedman, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, hailed the survey’s results as “remarkable data,” offering a potential avenue for understanding dark energy, the universe’s predominant enigma. Similarly, Michael Turner, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago credited with coining the term “dark energy,” described the potential evidence of its variability as groundbreaking, marking a significant advancement since the confirmation of cosmic acceleration over two decades ago.

In an artist’s rendering, light from quasars passes through intergalactic clouds of hydrogen gas. The light offers clues to the structure of the distant cosmos.Credit…NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld and DESI collaboration

In 1998, the discourse surrounding dark energy emerged when two rival groups of astronomers, among them Dr. Riess, made a groundbreaking discovery: rather than decelerating, the expansion of the universe was accelerating, contrary to prevalent astronomical expectations. These initial findings hinted at dark energy behaving akin to a significant adjustment term — represented by the Greek symbol Lambda — that Einstein had introduced into his equations to elucidate why the universe resisted gravitational collapse, a decision he later regretted.

However, it appears Einstein’s premature dismissal may have been unwarranted. Originally conceptualized by Einstein, Lambda was conceived as an inherent attribute of space itself: as the universe expanded, so did the influence of dark energy within it, exerting ever greater force and potentially leading towards a future devoid of light.

Dark energy assumed a pivotal role in the established model of the universe known as L.C.D.M., constituting 70 percent dark energy (Lambda), 25 percent cold dark matter (a collection of sluggish exotic particles), and 5 percent atomic matter. Despite recent scrutiny from the James Webb Space Telescope, this model has remained resilient. Yet, what if dark energy’s constancy, as presumed by the cosmological model, were called into question?

Central to this debate is a parameter denoted as w, which measures the intensity or fierceness of dark energy. In Einstein’s formulation, this value remains fixed at -1 throughout the universe’s existence, a convention upheld by cosmologists for the past quarter-century.

Nonetheless, this depiction of dark energy represents the most rudimentary interpretation. Dr. Palanque-Delabrouille remarked, “With DESI, we have attained a level of precision that enables us to surpass this simplistic model,” to explore whether dark energy’s density remains uniform over time or exhibits fluctuations and evolutionary patterns.

The DESI project, a culmination of 14 years of endeavor, aimed to scrutinize the constancy of dark energy by measuring the universe’s expansion rate at various junctures in its history. To achieve this, scientists equipped a telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory with 5,000 fiber-optic detectors capable of spectroscopic analysis on a multitude of galaxies concurrently, determining their recession velocities.


Utilizing baryon acoustic oscillations as a metric, imprints left by sound waves in the primordial universe, researchers segmented the past 11 billion years of cosmic evolution into seven distinct epochs. For each epoch, they gauged the magnitude of these oscillations and the velocities of galaxies within them.

Upon collating their findings, researchers found that the conventional assumption of constant dark energy failed to adequately describe the universe’s expansion. Galaxies in the most recent epochs appeared closer than anticipated, suggesting a potential evolution of dark energy over time.

Dr. Palanque-Delabrouille remarked, “We do indeed discern indications that the properties of dark energy may deviate from a simple cosmological constant,” marking a significant revelation. However, she cautioned, “I refrain from calling it conclusive evidence at this juncture; the evidence remains too tenuous.”

The trajectory of dark energy, and by extension, the validity of the cosmological model, will be elucidated with time and further data collection.

Dr. Turner observed, “L.C.D.M. is undergoing rigorous examination through precision testing from all angles, and it continues to withstand scrutiny. Yet, when all factors are considered, discrepancies emerge. DESI represents the latest indication of this phenomenon.”

Dr. Riess, having reviewed the DESI results, acknowledged the potential implications, stating, “This finding is highly intriguing and warrants serious consideration. Why else do we conduct these experiments if not to challenge existing paradigms?”

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments