The ultimate answer to the universe

Being a huge Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan this article has been used in many pub arguments!  Currently the ultimate answer is 70!

AMERICAN astrophysicists will plunge thousands of fans of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into confusion today.

They say a claim this week by British scientists that the answer to the fundamental question of the universe is 42 is wrong – the real answer is 65.

Cambridge scientists caused a stir yesterday after they announced that their new technique for calculating the Hubble constant – the holy grail of cosmologists – had yielded the same answer as the one calculated by Deep Thought, the fictional computer in the novel, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Deep Thought took seven and a half million years to find that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything was 42. The British scientists took only a few years to come to the same conclusion.

But Princeton University scientists have just submitted a paper to the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters, in which they describe a new technique that put the answer at 65.

The argument is fundamental to cosmology, The universe is expanding as a result of the Big Bang. Hubble’s Law states that galaxies are moving apart at a rate that increases with their distance.

The Hubble constant is the ratio of the speed at which the galaxy recedes, to its distance from us. Knowing this will enable astronomers to work backwards and put a date on the Big Bang and thus the age of the universe.

Wesley Colley, one of the American researchers, said yesterday that the American technique, which uses a method known as gravitational lensing, was a simple one and therefore particularly reliable. The Cambridge scientists have also used a new, but different method.

The dispute should go on for some time. Over the last two years different scientists have calculated the Hubble constant to be 50, 55, 57, 60 and 80.

By Aisling Irwin

NOVEMBER 9, 1996

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