Antigravity: A Brief Mystery Of Time

MARCH BLEW IN WITH amazing news about our universe, thanks to two international scientific teams. One group used the huge Cray T3E supercomputer at Germany's Max Planck Institute to run perhaps the largest calculation ever--simulating the evolution of the entire observable universe. The other peered at exploding stars, or supernovas, and found space permeated by a "new" force: antigravity.

Einstein's relativity equations allow for antigravity, but physicists regard it as just a mathematical curiosity, not reality. However, the High-z Supernova Search Team says antigravity seems the only explanation for an apparent speedup in the expansion of the universe since the Big Bang 15 billion years ago. Analyzing its supernova data, the team found the rate at which galaxies are receding from each other is accelerating. So they must be getting pushed apart by antigravity.

In the Feb. 27 issue of Science, High-z's lead astronomer, Brian Schmidt of the Mount Stromlo & Siding Spring Observatories in Australia, says his reaction was "somewhere between amazement and horror." So the team triple-checked its data. Result: The group is more than 98% sure that antigravity is the culprit.

Now, Max Planck is gearing up to rerun its simulation "to look specifically at this matter," says Simon White, an astrophysicist at the institute. He expects the results this month. Meanwhile, astronomers around the world are merrily studying the new model, looking for answers to such puzzles as why galaxies formed in clumps and strings.

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