January 23, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Should Cosmologists Get Worried Yet?

The unexpected finding of mature galaxies in the early universe (see 01/02/2004) has Robert Irion worried, but he seems surprised the theorists are not.  Reporting on last week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society in the Jan. 23 issue of Science,1 he titles his article, “Early Galaxies Baffle Observers, But Theorists Shrug.”  He begins:

“It’s not quite time for theorists to panic, but we’re getting there,” said astronomer Roberto Abraham of the University of Toronto, Canada, after announcing his group’s discovery of a startling number of mature galaxies in the young universe.  But although the finding seemed to undermine the standard view of how matter assembled, theorists have respectfully declined to sound the alarm.

The results from the Gemini Sky Survey seem to contradict the neat “hierarchical model” of galaxy formation, that galaxies gradually built up from small components over billions of years.  He quotes astronomers like Joel Primack (UC Santa Cruz) who are not too worried about it – yet.  He thinks the standard model explains the dark matter haloes of galaxies fairly well.  But the hardest problem in astrophysics, the one they understand least of all, is the stars themselves: “But they fail to explain why the bright lights within the lumps–great waves of star formation that spawned visible galaxies–turned on when and where they did,” Irion points out.
    In a related article, reporting on the same AAS meeting, Irion asks if star formation is an extreme sport.2  Three new findings he heard about, which suggest extremely violent events going on in space, cause him to suggest that “theories of star birth haven’t properly considered the roles of violent, impulsive events.”


1Robert Irion, “Early Galaxies Baffle Observers, But Theorists Shrug,” Science Volume 303, Number 5657, Issue of 23 Jan 2004, p. 460.
2Robert Irion, “Star Formation—An Extreme Sport?” Science Volume 303, Number 5657, Issue of 23 Jan 2004, pp. 460-461.

It’s not a problem.  Everything is under control.  Our model can handle it.  (The last words of a dying paradigm.)

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Categories: Astronomy, Cosmology

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