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50 Years Ago

Revamping the size of the universe

Excerpt from the May 30, 1964, issue of Science News Letter

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4:49pm, May 15, 2014

BIG DOME  In 1964, the 200-inch Hale telescope atop Mt. Palomar was starting to piece together how the universe was put together. Today, new telescopes show that the farthest light in the universe is 13.8 billion light-years away. But astronomers still aren't sure whether that lights marks the true end of the cosmos or if there is still more to discover.

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SIZE OF UNIVERSE STUDIED — The universe is much bigger than scientists thought as little as 15 years ago, Dr. Ira S. Bowen, director of Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories, said. It is billions of light years in size as seen from the earth, exactly how big even astronomers can not yet say. The amount of space and matter the world’s largest telescope, the giant 200-inch atop Mt. Palomar, can see is so great that how the universe is put together should soon be known…. Before the 200-inch went into operation, the most distant objects in the heavens were thought to be only hundreds of millions of light years away. —Science News LetterMay 30, 1964

UPDATE

Data from the Hubble space telescope in the 1990s revealed more about the size of the observable universe, and since then NASA’s WMAP satellite has detected light from 13.8 billion light-years away. No one knows, though, whether the universe is infinitely large, or even if what has been observed is the only universe that exists. 

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