Size and Age of the Universe

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Science  21 Aug 1981:
Vol. 213, Issue 4510, pp. 825-830
DOI: 10.1126/science.213.4510.825


The age of the universe based on abundances of isotopes is in the range 10 billion to 15 billion years. This is consistent with the age range 12 billion to 20 billion years calculated from the evolution of the oldest galactic stars. A third estimate of the age of the universe is based on the Hubble relation between the velocities of galaxies and their distances from us, where the inverse of the Hubble parameter H is a measure of the age of a uniformly expanding universe. Evidence that has been accumulating over the past few years indicates that the expansion of the universe may exhibit a rather large local perturbation due to the gravitational attraction of the Virgo supercluster. Different types of observations still produce conflicting evidence about the velocity with which the Local Group of galaxies (of which our Milky Way system is a member) is falling into the Virgo cluster. The results to date indicate that this velocity lies somewhere in the range 0 to 500 kilometers per second. The resulting ambiguity in the flow pattern for relatively nearby galaxies makes values of H derived from galaxies with radial velocities less than 2000 kilometers per second particularly uncertain, and this restricts determinations of H to distant galaxies, for which distances are particularly uncertain. The best that can be said at present is that H–1 yields a maximum time scale in the range 10 billion to 20 billion years.