Are Local Microwaves Cooking the Cosmic Background?
Science Now has a surprising announcement that may alter astronomers’ confidence in the structure of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation. Since the WMAP probe data was analyzed (see 09/20/2004 headline), cosmologists have boasted that the high resolution detections of fluctuations in the temperature supported their models of big bang inflation and dark matter / dark energy proportions. Now, a paper by Schwartz et al. in Physical Review Letters1 has found evidence that some of the fluctuations may be caused by our own solar system, which may be producing or absorbing some of the microwaves. They found a disproportionate number of fluctuation vectors are aligned with the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. Adrian Cho writes, “That would mean the strength of the undulations in the truly cosmic radiation wouldn’t jibe with the predictions of inflation.” One of the team members commented that this would “point to some serious problem with our understanding of the universe at the largest scales.” The WMAP team, however, is calling the preferential alignment of vectors a fluke of chance.
1Schwartz, Starkman et al., Physical Review Letters, 93, 221301 (2004), 26 Nov 2004.
The WMAP cosmologists were trying to squeeze too much tall tale out of millionths of a degree anyway. It was already evident from claiming that 95% of the universe is mystery stuff that they had a “serious problem with [their] understanding of the universe at the largest scales.”