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The Question

(Submitted June 11, 1997)

If all the distant galaxies are flying away from us, does that mean that we're in the center of the Universe?

The Answer

Thanks for your question. Astronomers and physicists interpret the result that all distant galaxies are flying away from us as evidence for the uniform expansion of the Universe. In this case, any observer, at any location in the Universe, observes the same general motion: that the further a galaxy is from us, the faster its relative velocity with respect to the observer is. The famous (and very illustrative) example of this is to imagine a loaf of raisin bread as it is baking. The raisins in the bread spread away from one another as the loaf rises and expands during the baking. Pick any raisin and pretend you are standing on it (you're very small now!) and measuring the rate at which the other raisins are moving away from you. You will find that, no matter which raisin you choose, all other raisins appear to be moving away from you, with the furthest raisins receding the fastest.

The current cosmological model of the Universe supposes that our position within the Universe is typical, not special. We are not located at the center of the Universe, but are rather taking part in its global expansion. I hope this answers your question.


Padi Boyd
for the Ask an Astrophysicist

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