[The following text summarizes an Associated Press story by Paul Recer, dated February 27, 1998. CNI News thanks Philip Mantle (firstname.lastname@example.org) for bringing this story to our attention.]
A mysterious antigravity force first suggested and then discarded by Einstein may be causing the universe to expand at a constantly accelerating rate, according to findings reported in the February 26 issue of the journal Science. The phenomenon was discovered by astronomers studying the motion of exploding stars more than 7 billion light-years from earth.
"It is such a strange result we are still wondering if there is some other sneaky little effect climbing in there," said Adam Riess, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley. He said he and the others in the 15-member international team that made the discovery "have looked hard for errors," but found none.
By repeatedly observing the light emissions of exploding super-novas in deep space, the astronomers were able to measure the speed at which the stars were moving away. They expected to find that the expansion of the universe was gradually slowing due to gravity.
"What people thought is that the universe was just coasting" from the force of the Big Bang, said team member Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Instead, we found it is actually speeding up."
Rocky Kolb, a University of Chicago astronomer, said in Science that the finding was so startling, "I think everyone should reserve judgment." But Kirshner noted that preliminary results from a parallel study by another astronomy group are in agreement.
Einstein proposed the idea of an antigravity force but later called it his greatest blunder.
But if the universe's expansion is actually accelerating, it must be due to some force that overcomes gravitational attraction. Riess said the "cosmological constant" first proposed by Einstein is "the only explanation we have" for the acceleration. He described the constant as "a repulsive force that is a property of vacuum in space and time."
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