Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Hubble Expansion and Speed of Galaxies
Name: Daniel
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: AL
Country: N/A
Date: 10/18/2005

I have a question that has been gnawing at me for sometime, and I can not find the answer on the Internet or in the library. Please help me.

Hubble compared the distances to the velocity with which the galaxies were speeding away, and explained that the farther away the galaxy, the more rapidly it moved. This relation, known as Hubble's Law, was proof that the universe was expanding.

Now consider, Einstein's Law of Relativity which states that light in a vacuum travels at a constant speed of 299,792,458 meters per second.

For instance, if we viewed a galaxy 10 billion light years away; we are in fact seeing the galaxy as it appeared 10 billion years ago. Are we not seeing the speed of this galaxy racing away 10 billion years ago? This does not mean that it is traveling faster now, only in the distant past. This could be a result of being nearer the time of the Big Bang. In fact, this could cast doubt on the Big Rip Theory if it is traveling slower now. Has this been taken into account, or have I missed something?

The story of the cosmology of the Universe is fascinating, but far too long to address here. In addition, it becomes mathematically messy when looked at in "detail". There are some misconceptions that arise because that story is counter-intuitive. For example, "being nearer the time of the Big Bang" seems to imply that we have a watch and can say when the "Big Bang" occurred. That is not quite accurate because prior to the "Big Bang" there was no such thing as time (so far as we know). The "Big Bang" creates time and space. The finite speed of light does mean that there is an event "horizon". that is there may be some galaxies whose light has not yet reached us (we have only been observing distant galaxies for about 50 years). Presumably, there may also be galaxies that we have not observed because they have "burned out" before we ever got a chance to observe them. Distant galaxies do not appear to be slowing down. In fact the speed of recession from our view (Earth) appears to be accelerating, and all are moving away from us and one another, so that the average density of the Universe appears to be continually decreasing. Recent measurements and analysis show that the distant objects in the Universe are "younger" than the Universe itself (which is measure by cosmic background microwave radiation first observed by Penzias and Wilson), so there can be an event horizon i.e. galaxies "out there" whose light has not yet reached "us". I recommend a very readable book, "Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe" by Simon Singh who has a talent for making difficult ideas approachable.

Vince Calder

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory