The Universe is apparently looking pretty good for its age.
According to a new study the cosmos might be a billion years older that we previously thought.
Yes, this is controversial stuff. Every child paying attention in physics knows that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. (Not 13.7 billion). We know this because we can measure the age of the background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
But the discovery recently of a star (HD 140283, snappily renamed Methuselah) which appeared, based on evidence from the light it's sending back to Earth, to be 14.46 billion years old at least, called into surprising question that most basic fact about the universe.
Luckily, for current theories of existence, there was a catch.
The error margin regarding the star's age is about 800 million years, it was revealed later - easily enough for it to have been created before all of the matter, physics and whatnot that it would need to exist in the first place.
However, scientists didn't stop there. A new study suggests that it might be possible that our measurements of the universe's age have been wrong all along - and Methuselah might be just as old as it appears.
Birol Kilkis of Baskent University in Turkey writes in the International Journal of Exergy, as reported by Phys.org, that he thinks the universe could be at least 14.8 billion years old.
His estimate is one result of his 'Radiating Universe Model' theory, introduced in 2004, which cheerily suggests that the universe will eventually transition into an infinitely big, cold wasteland. He posits that the universe is essentially a big ball of heat, surrounded by an infinite heat sink - into which all matter will eventually smear, losing almost all of its energy.
In truth, the specifics of why his theory necessitates an older universe somewhat escape us - though it's worth reading this account, which touches on some of the detail. (It's to do with Kilkis' idea that Planck's constant, one of the cornerstones of quantum mechanics, is not actually… constant.)
Needless to say, this is at best a fringe theory right now. And it's more likely that Methuselah is just younger than it looks. But it's still an intriguing glimpse into the state of physics research, where everything -- even the age of the universe -- is still, to some extent, up for debate.