Comoving distance

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In standard cosmology, comoving distance and proper distance are two closely related distance measures used by cosmologists to define distances between objects. Proper distance roughly corresponds to where a distant object would be at a specific moment of cosmological time, measured using a long series of rulers stretched out from our position to the object's position at that time, and which can change over time due to the expansion of the universe. Comoving distance factors out the expansion of the universe, giving a distance that doesn't change over time, though it is defined to be equal to the proper distance at the present time.


Comoving coordinates

While general relativity allows one to formulate the laws of physics using arbitrary coordinates, some coordinate choices are more natural (e.g. they are easier to work with). Comoving coordinates are an example of such a natural coordinate choice. They assign constant spatial coordinate values to observers who perceive the universe as isotropic. Such observers are called "comoving" observers because they move along with the Hubble flow.

A comoving observer is the only observer that will perceive the universe, including the cosmic microwave background radiation, to be isotropic. Non-comoving observers will see regions of the sky systematically blue-shifted or red-shifted. Thus isotropy, particularly isotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation, defines a special local frame of reference called the comoving frame. The velocity of an observer relative to the local comoving frame is called the peculiar velocity of the observer.

Most large lumps of matter, such as galaxies, are nearly comoving, i.e., their peculiar velocities (due to gravitational attraction) are low.

The comoving time coordinate is the elapsed time since the Big Bang according to a clock of a comoving observer and is a measure of cosmological time. The comoving spatial coordinates tell us where an event occurs while cosmological time tells us when an event occurs. Together, they form a complete coordinate system, giving us both the location and time of an event.

Space in comoving coordinates is usually referred to as being "static", as most bodies on the scale of galaxies or larger are approximately comoving, and comoving bodies have static, unchanging comoving coordinates. So for a given pair of comoving galaxies, while the proper distance between them would have been smaller in the past and will become larger in the future due to the expansion of space, the comoving distance between them remains constant at all times.

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