What shape is space?

There’s plenty of it, so what shape do we think the universe is?

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Using measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, it’s likely that the universe is flat with zero curvature

Using measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, it’s likely that the universe is flat with zero curvature. Image Credit: ESA

Asked by Jack Branson

On a local scale, the fabric of space-time is warped around every object that has mass in the universe thanks to gravity. The shape of the universe overall though is different. Given our observations using the likes of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which measured fluctuations of the universe’s radiation, we think that it’s fairly flat.

Just like on a local scale, the mass of the universe has an influence on the overall geometry of the cosmos. Knowing its density of matter and energy tells us whether it’s open (like a saddle shape), closed (like a sphere) or flat (like a sheet of paper). With an idea of its shape, we can work out the universe’s fate. In the case of a flat universe, it’s predicted that it will expand forever.

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