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Expanding Confusion: Common Misconceptions of Cosmological Horizons and the Superluminal Expansion of the Universe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2013

Tamara M. Davis
University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia; (e-mail:
Charles H. Lineweaver
University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia; (e-mail:
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We use standard general relativity to illustrate and clarify several common misconceptions about the expansion of the universe. To show the abundance of these misconceptions we cite numerous misleading, or easily misinterpreted, statements in the literature. In the context of the new standard ΛCDM cosmology we point out confusions regarding the particle horizon, the event horizon, the ‘observable universe’ and the Hubble sphere (distance at which recession velocity = c). We show that we can observe galaxies that have, and always have had, recession velocities greater than the speed of light. We explain why this does not violate special relativity and we link these concepts to observational tests. Attempts to restrict recession velocities to less than the speed of light require a special relativistic interpretation of cosmological redshifts. We analyze apparent magnitudes of supernovae and observationally rule out the special relativistic Doppler interpretation of cosmological redshifts at a confidence level of 23σ.

Research Article
Copyright © Astronomical Society of Australia 2004


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