Space Expansion makes observable universe over triple the age of the universe

The limit on our observation universe is not the age of the universe and the speed of light which would be 13.799 billion light-years for two reasons.

This article is selected material from the Observable Universe entry in Wikipedia.

1. Space itself is expanding, so we can actually detect light from objects that were once close, but are now up to around 45.7 billion light years away (rather than up to 13.799 billion light years away as might be expected).

2. before the recombination epoch, about 378,000 years after the Big Bang, the Universe was filled with a plasma that was opaque to light, and photons were quickly re-absorbed by other particles, so we cannot see objects from before that time using light or any other electromagnetic radiation. Gravitational waves and neutrino background would have been unaffected by this, and may be detectable from earlier times.

There are at least 2 trillion galaxies in the observable universe, containing more stars than all the grains of sand on planet Earth. Assuming the Universe is isotropic, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is roughly the same in every direction. That is, the observable universe is a spherical volume (a ball) centered on the observer. Every location in the Universe has its own observable universe, which may or may not overlap with the one centered on Earth.

The total mass of ordinary matter in the universe can be calculated using the critical density and the diameter of the observable universe to be about 1.5×10^53 kg.

Future Observable universe

Assuming dark energy remains constant (an unchanging cosmological constant), so that the expansion rate of the Universe continues to accelerate, there is a “future visibility limit” beyond which objects will never enter our observable universe at any time in the infinite future, because light emitted by objects outside that limit would never reach the Earth. (A subtlety is that, because the Hubble parameter is decreasing with time, there can be cases where a galaxy that is receding from the Earth just a bit faster than light does emit a signal that reaches the Earth eventually). This future visibility limit is calculated at a comoving distance of 19 billion parsecs (62 billion light years), assuming the Universe will keep expanding forever, which implies the number of galaxies that we can ever theoretically observe in the infinite future (leaving aside the issue that some may be impossible to observe in practice due to redshift, as discussed in the following paragraph) is only larger than the number currently observable by a factor of 2.36.

Size of the Universe

According to the theory of cosmic inflation, if it is assumed that inflation began about 10^−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the Universe before the inflation occurred was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe’s size is at least 3×10^23 times the radius of the observable universe.

There are also lower estimates claiming that the entire universe is in excess of 250 times larger than the observable universe and also higher estimates implying that the universe is at least 10^10^10^122 times larger than the observable universe.

If the Universe is finite but unbounded, it is also possible that the Universe is smaller than the observable universe. What are seen as very distant galaxies may actually be duplicate images of nearby galaxies, formed by light that has circumnavigated the Universe. It is difficult to test this hypothesis experimentally because different images of a galaxy would show different eras in its history, and consequently might appear quite different.