The James Webb Space Telescope, launched in 2013, lived up to its promise of peering deeper into the cosmos with its infrared capability. At fourteen billion light years, astronomers thought they had reached the edge of the observable universe. But the first objects from fifteen billion light years away didn’t come into focus until the World Space Observatory, an ultraviolet-capable telescope launched in 2017, was aimed at an unremarkable patch of space. At first, scientists didn’t know what they were observing. They originally speculated they were seeing the breakdown of symmetry as matter and energy split into their present forms. But a graduate student by the name of Thomas Becker, working on little more than a hunch, decided to apply a different analysis. What he found stunned the scientific community: blue-shifted galaxies at the edge of the universe.
Confirmation was slow since the blue-shifted galaxies were twisted beyond casual recognition through gravitational lensing effects. But as more and more computers were tasked with analyzing the data, it became undeniable that the galaxies were there and presumably going the wrong way. And there were trillions of them.
Many theories surfaced to explain the phenomenon. Some theorized that the universe, for whatever reason, simply cannot expand beyond a certain point. So the universe, despite previous observations, is effectively closed, and the farthest galaxies have been racing back toward us for quite some time. Other theories involved the exotic notion that the light from the blue-shifted galaxies had already circumnavigated the universe and had been emitted from galaxies that were, in fact, very near our own.
But the theory that gained the most favor was Thomas Becker’s. Becker theorized that hyper-expansion of the universe had occurred between fourteen and fifteen billion years ago. While this would put the blue-shifted galaxies on the other side of the hyper-expansion event, and thus impossibly out of sight, photons emitted by the galaxies just before the hyper-expansion occurred would still be visible, even if only for a limited time. It was these photons, Becker argued, that we were observing.
To explain the blue shift, Becker invoked nothing less than what seemed to be a violation of the law of conservation of energy. The gravitational contours of space cause photons to gain and lose energy, but the energy gained as a photon enters a gravity well--as happens when it passes near or through a galaxy--is completely lost when the photon exits the well, and energy is conserved. But a hyper-expansion event would drastically flatten space, making these wells much shallower. According to Becker, photons near the bottom of these gravity wells when the hyper-expansion event occurred would use far less energy climbing out of the wells than they gained falling in due to the sudden flattening of space, resulting in a blue shift. From the photons’ perspective, it was a downhill trip to the World Space Observatory. The magnitude of the blue shift could even be used to determine the extent of the hyper-expansion -- knowledge scientists had long thought to be unattainable.
So the hyper-expansion event was kind enough to take a snapshot before pushing everything on the other side out of the observable universe. And it even gave this snapshot an extra push toward our instruments.
Thomas Becker, when a reporter asked the name of his theory, replied, “Hyper-expansion-induced gravitational peristalsis.” Of course, when the headline appeared, the name of the theory had been changed, much to Becker's delight and approval, to “The Big Gulp.”