Redshift and Distance in Cosmology

I was looking for a copy of this this picture this morning and when I found it I thought I’d share it here. It was made by Andy Hamilton and appears in this paper. I used it (with permission) in the textbook I wrote with Francesco Lucchin which was published in 2003.

I think this is a nice simple illustration of the effect of the density parameter Ω and the cosmological constant Λ on the relationship between redshift and (comoving) distance in the standard cosmological models based on the Friedman Equations.

On the left there is the old standard model (from when I was a lad) in which space is Euclidean and there is a critical density of matter; this is called the Einstein de Sitter model in which Λ=0. On the right you can see something much closer to the current standard model of cosmology, with a lower density of matter but with the addition of a cosmological constant. Notice that in the latter case the distance to an object at a given redshift is far larger than in the former. This is, for example, why supernovae at high redshift look much fainter in the latter model than in the former, and why these measurements are so sensitive to the presence of a cosmological constant.

In the middle there is a model with no cosmological constant but a low density of matter; this is an open Universe. Because it decelerates much more slowly than in the Einstein de Sitter model, the distance out to a given redshift is larger (but not quite as large as the case on the right, which is an accelerating model), but the main property of interest in the open model is that the space is not Euclidean, but curved. The effect of this is that an object of fixed physical size at a given redshift subtends a much smaller angle than in the cases either side. That shows why observations of the pattern of variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background across the sky yield so much information about the spatial geometry.

It’s a very instructive picture, I think!

3 Responses to “Redshift and Distance in Cosmology”

  1. Michael Wilson Says:

    Very instructive. I made a colour version a few years back, with a few extensions – notably the luminosity distance (distance modulus) – in the notation of Cosmological Physics. To be found on page 15 of https://arxiv.org/pdf/1610.08362.pdf, for what it’s worth!

  2. Very instructive. I made a colour version a few years ago, with a few additions – notably, the distance modulus – in the notation of Cosmological Physics. To be found on page 15 of https://arxiv.org/pdf/1610.08362.pdf, for what it’s worth!

  3. Michel C. Says:

    Thank you! An image worth a thousand words…

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