Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What do we exactly mean by space is expanding?

  1. Jun 11, 2014 #1
    I know this question had often been asked on PF but I don't get them. What do mean when we say that space is expanding? I mean that space is no physical entity that can expand. Space is just (apparently) "nothingness". Please solve my confusion.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2014 #2
    the increase of space is simply an increase of geometric volume, that volume is filled with the contents of the universe.

    You are right that space is not a physical entity, you oft read misnomers that imply that space has some physical property, however space itself does not. It has neither a physical property nor energy in and of itself.
  4. Jun 11, 2014 #3
    But does it have the space to expand? Like if a balloon(yes, I am using the misleading balloon analogy) is expanding,
    it is expanding in space? Then, what is space expanding into?
  5. Jun 11, 2014 #4
    this is one of the best balloon analogies I've come across, it is written by another forum member Phind's. He covers that question in better detail than I

    http://www.phinds.com/balloonanalogy/ : A thorough write up on the balloon analogy used to describe expansion
  6. Jun 11, 2014 #5
    Space expanding is the same thing as matter contracting.
    So instead of space expanding, just think matter contracting.
    All we can measure is that the ratio galaxy_size/intergalactic_distance is getting smaller.
  7. Jun 11, 2014 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    No, it is not. This has been discussed here on the forum many times.

    "Expanding space" only happens outside galactic clusters. What would "matter contracting" mean? Why would it be different from "space shrinking"? Space does not expand or shrink and neither does matter. Things on the size of galactic clusters and larger just move farther apart withing the geometric framework that we call "space".

    I suggest that you also follow Mordred's advice and read the link in my signature
  8. Jun 11, 2014 #7
    Consider this example. Let there be two spaceships between Milky Way and some other galaxy. So, if space is expanding, then the two space ships should start moving away from each other even if they are set at a fixed distance from each other and are stationary with respect to each other. Will they move away?
  9. Jun 11, 2014 #8
    Ok lets assume you have two stationary objects in a non gravitationally bound region. (expansion doesn't affect gravitationally bound objects)

    then the answer is yes the volume of space between them will increase. So they will have an increase in distance between them, however they will not have gained any inertia, they will both remain stationary. The distance between them will simply increase. Expansion does not impart inertia
  10. Jun 11, 2014 #9
    I assume by gravitationally bound you mean strongly bound objects like binary stars, galaxies etc. Otherwise everything is gravitationally bound as there are no limits to gravitational force.
  11. Jun 11, 2014 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    No, that's not quite right. Certainly, you are correct in saying that there are no limits to gravitational force, but that does NOT imply that all objects in the universe are gravitationally bound to each other.

    The earth and the moon are gravitationally bound. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are gravitationally bound. The Milky Way and the Bullet Cluster are NOT gravitationally bound. I think Your requirement of "strongly" bound is correct if you consider that your definition of what constitutes strongly bound is overly restrictive. Personally, I don't know if "strongly" bound even HAS a solid definition but "gravitationally bound" does ... it means, roughly, things that don't fly apart from each other.
  12. Jun 11, 2014 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I think one must be a little careful with this. Yashbhatt asked the question for two objects stationary relative to each other, which could be viewed as the Tethered Galaxy Problem of Tamara Davis et al.

    According to Mordred's (apparent) definition, one or both of the tethered ships must have had inertia relative to the Hubble flow, which is then diminished as they later joint the Hubble flow. In the epoch of non-acceleration of expansion, the said inertia could even have gone up (as they fall "through" each other), before joining the Hubble flow on the opposite side.
  13. Jun 11, 2014 #12
    I don't understand the last part. Receding objects can show red shift and approaching objects can show blue shift?
  14. Jun 11, 2014 #13
    yes motion has an influence on observations called Doppler effect. as objects approach there is a shift in frequency in light and sound waves (blueshift) as they recede there is a corresponding redshift


    however redshift(blueshift) due to expansion not motion as per se. is called cosmological redshift
    this article will explain the three types of redshifts in cosmology usage.

  15. Jun 11, 2014 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    They say the opposite of what you say, but qualified for the 'tethered case'. The detail explanation is in section III (p. 5) of the referenced paper. Essentially, a distant galaxy that would presently be "untethered" from our Galaxy could have a huge peculiar velocity towards us, with the resulting Doppler blueshift overwhelming the normal cosmological redshift.
  16. Jun 11, 2014 #15
    actually I didn't even consider the tethered scenario, my main point is no momentum is imparted upon the galaxies due to expansion. in this article its covered by the statement.

    "space is expanding and is determined by the acceleration of the expansion of the universe -- not a force or drag associated with the expansion itself"

    still its a good point to be aware of the tethered scenarios

    by the way Jorrie I tried posting the lightcone calc on the forum recently and it came up as an error what is the latest version link or is version 7 still the latest?
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2014
  17. Jun 12, 2014 #16
    Jorrie off topic is version 7 the latest version of the lightcone calc?

    I'm going to test the one off your signature

    [tex]{\scriptsize\begin{array}{|c|c|c|c|c|c|}\hline R_{0} (Gly) & R_{\infty} (Gly) & S_{eq} & H_{0} & \Omega_\Lambda & \Omega_m\\ \hline 14.4&17.3&3400&67.9&0.693&0.307\\ \hline \end{array}}[/tex] [tex]{\scriptsize\begin{array}{|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|r|} \hline a=1/S&S&T (Gy)&R (Gly)&D_{now} (Gly)&D_{then}(Gly)&D_{hor}(Gly)&V_{now} (c)&V_{then} (c) \\ \hline 0.001&1090.000&0.0004&0.0006&45.332&0.042&0.057&3.15&66.18\\ \hline 0.003&339.773&0.0025&0.0040&44.184&0.130&0.179&3.07&32.87\\ \hline 0.009&105.913&0.0153&0.0235&42.012&0.397&0.552&2.92&16.90\\ \hline 0.030&33.015&0.0902&0.1363&38.052&1.153&1.652&2.64&8.45\\ \hline 0.097&10.291&0.5223&0.7851&30.918&3.004&4.606&2.15&3.83\\ \hline 0.312&3.208&2.9777&4.3736&18.248&5.688&10.827&1.27&1.30\\ \hline 1.000&1.000&13.7872&14.3999&0.000&0.000&16.472&0.00&0.00\\ \hline 3.208&0.312&32.8849&17.1849&11.118&35.666&17.225&0.77&2.08\\ \hline 7.580&0.132&47.7251&17.2911&14.219&107.786&17.291&0.99&6.23\\ \hline 17.911&0.056&62.5981&17.2993&15.536&278.256&17.299&1.08&16.08\\ \hline 42.321&0.024&77.4737&17.2998&16.093&681.061&17.300&1.12&39.37\\ \hline 100.000&0.010&92.3494&17.2999&16.328&1632.838&17.300&1.13&94.38\\ \hline \end{array}}[/tex]

    kk its working now
  18. Jun 12, 2014 #17


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Yup, we stopped tinkering at version 7. ;)
  19. Jun 12, 2014 #18
    It is an anachronism.

    There are two ways to describe an expanding Universe (equally valid in General Relativity due to diffeomorphism).

    1) Keep the coordinates of space fixed and the coordinates of particles change with time.
    2) Let the space coordinates expand with time so the particles coordinates remain the same.

    They are equivalent but in the 2nd example it is easier to talk about "expanding space" while in the first about "galaxies flying away from each other".

    When you change coordinates in General Relativity you also change the gravitational fields. (Just like in the coordanates that move with a falling elevator there is no gravity). So in the 2nd one the particles feel no "force" while in the first one they experience a gravitational force between particles.

    So does space really "expand"? It depends on your coordinate system!
  20. Jun 12, 2014 #19


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Your item 1 and your statement about it in the next sentence are contradictory. Galaxies flying away from each other IS what we see experimentally but "coordinates of particles change with time" is NOT what we see. Coordinates of GALAXIES (that are not in galactic clusters) change with time relative to each other, yes, but particles, no.
  21. Jun 12, 2014 #20
    I meant "particle" in the mathematical sense of an object with coordinates. As such a galaxy is a "particle". I didn't meant elementary particles. Sorry for the confusion!
  22. Jun 14, 2014 #21
    Can anyone explain how we deduced that space is expanding? I read that it was something related to the CMB on this site. http://astronomy.stackexchange.com/a/3654/1156(See the comments on mpv's answer).

    Can anyone explain the reason in detail?
  23. Jun 14, 2014 #22


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_expansion_of_space#Observational_evidence

    There are several key things that support expansion. The redshifting of spectral lines from distant galaxies, the CMB, and the isotropic and homogeneous structure of the universe at the largest scales. In addition, expansion is also supported by helping explain the relative abundance of hydrogen and helium in the universe, as the prevailing cosmological model predicts the observed abundance of these elements to good precision.

    Put simply, nothing in astronomy makes sense except in the light of universal expansion.
  24. Jun 14, 2014 #23
    I read something like if it were we moving away instead of space expanding, then there would have been more dipole anisotropies in the CMB but what we observe is that we are almost stationary with respect to the CMB. I think that makes the most sense of all.
  25. Jun 14, 2014 #24
    I'm not sure what you are trying to say here. The expansion of space certainly causes galaxies to end up with velocity relative to each other, and therefore momentum.
  26. Jun 14, 2014 #25


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I don't really follow what you mean. Moving away from WHAT? We ARE moving away from every galaxy in the universe except for those in the local group, so what is it that we are not moving away from? We have a fairly modest velocity relative to the CMB but so does every galaxy in the universe despite the fact that they are all receding from each other, some faster than c. How does that fit with what you are saying?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook