Release #2-15
December 8, 2015

Greatest Misconception in Science Exposed

    In textbooks by notable cosmologists, in scientific publications by researchers, in conversations among scientists, and throughout the Internet including numerous pages of Wikipedia, it is stated that very distant spatial points in the Universe move away from one another faster than the speed of light. How could this be? Didn't Einstein teach us that nothing can move faster than the speed of light?

    Cosmologists counter that space is different from a physical object and that supraluminal speeds are possible for spatial points. Indeed, Hubble's Law -- one of the key elements of modern cosmology -- says that a faraway spatial point moves away from us at a speed that is proportional to its distance. Hence, if a point is sufficiently far away then it must travel faster than the speed of light.

    “Not so,” says Dr. Stuart Samuel, a senior scientist at Jupiter Scientific, a former professor of physics at Columbia University and a former member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. One problem, according to Samuel, is that a physical body located at such a very distance point would also have a speed greater than that of light. Indeed, faraway astrophysical objects such as distant galaxies and quasars have been observed to obey Hubble's law. Thus, objects that are 14.2 billion light-years from Earth should be traveling at the speed of light, and those objects beyond this, even faster.

    “The origin of the misconception is that the definition of the distance between two well-separated spatial points is not well-defined in an expanding Universe. In such a Universe, this distance is continually increasing. Its measurement is inherently non-local and requires time to carry out. Consequently, the issue arises as to when and how the measurement of this distance is made. Different definitions lead to different speeds. The distance used in Hubble’s law is called the proper distance and is not physical in the sense that it requires a non-local instantaneous measurement, something that is not possible to perform.” Samuel claims that more reasonable definitions of cosmological distances do not permit supraluminal speeds. One definition is particularly natural, according to Samuel, in that it reproduces the cosmological redshift from the well-known Doppler effect. Details and more discussion are available at the website

    In science, misconceptions occasionally arise but eventually are corrected through the scientific process. A few centuries ago, the Earth was thought to be flat. It took some time to dispel this accepted dogma. One difficulty in dismissing supraluminal cosmological speeds is that it is more conceptional than experimental in character since it is impossible to directly measure distances very, very far away.

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