The universe might not be flat - it could be curved like an inflating ball

Rob Waugh
Cosmic Microwave Background (ESA)
Cosmic Microwave Background (ESA)

Just thinking about the shape of the universe we live in a slightly mind-boggling idea - but we might have got it completely wrong.

Many scientists have believed that the universe is flat, and that things continue in a straight line.

But data collected by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite suggests another shape entirely - a curved, closed sphere.

Researchers measured the effect of ‘gravitational lensing’, how gravity distorts light.

Telescopes on Earth commonly detect gravitational lensing where light is ‘bent’ by massive objects on its way towards us.


Mysterious ‘gravity waves’ seen rippling in our atmosphere

Insects could die out in ‘worst exctinction since the dinosaurs’

Voyager, the Solar System and beyond

Researchers measured the effect of the gravitational lensing on the cosmic microwave background - the afterglow of the Big Bang.

The ancient light is being distorted by gravity more than it should be, if our universe is flat.

But the researchers suggest that the data gathered in 2018 by the Planck satellite shows that our universe might be ‘closed’ and curved.

The researchers write, “A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect, with the Planck cosmic microwave background spectra now preferring a positive curvature at more than the 99 percent confidence level.

"Here, we further investigate the evidence for a closed universe from Planck, showing that positive curvature naturally explains the anomalous lensing amplitude."

If true, the finding would upend our ideas about our universe.

The researchers, led by Eleonora Di Valentino of Manchester University, suggest that their findings could call for a "drastic rethinking of the current cosmological concordance model."