Could Cosmology Be Based on Flawed Calibrations?
This is the era of “precision cosmology,” we have been told (09/20/2004 04/13/2007). Especially since the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), measurements of faint deviations in the cosmic microwave background have reached exceptional detail (02/14/2003, allowing cosmologists to discriminate between cosmological models and, hopefully, provide insight into the nature and origins of the universe. But what if the assumptions used to calibrate WMAP are wrong? Then other models tossed out could actually be back in the running. That’s what a maverick cosmologist is claiming.
New Scientist headlined, “Has Jupiter sent cosmology down a false trail?” Most cosmologists have assumed that Jupiter provides a steady source of microwaves that can be used as a calibration source. That may be, but Tom Shanks (U of Durham, UK) and a graduate student tried recalibrating the data using radio galaxies that also emit microwaves. His calibration lets back in models that the WMAP teams have tossed out.
Supporters of the standard model are not deterred. For one thing, according to New Scientist, they do not know why Jupiter would fail to be a good calibration source. For another, they criticize the use of radio galaxies as calibration sources.
Update 06/13/2010: Space.com published an entry on this controversy, adding the thought that if Shanks is right, dark matter and dark energy might not exist. Clara Moskowitz reported, “A new look at the data from one of the telescopes used to establish the existence of this strange stuff is causing some scientists to question whether they really exist at all.” Though she reported, like New Scientist, that the WMAP scientists disagree with Shanks and stand by their data, she added that Shanks is aware of their objections and stands by his calculations. New measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft may be able to resolve the controversy.
In addition, Science Daily reported on the controversy, adding this insight: “If the Universe really has no ‘dark side’, it will come as a relief to some theoretical physicists. Having a model dependent on as yet undetected exotic particles that make up dark matter and the completely mysterious dark energy leaves many scientists feeling uncomfortable. It also throws up problems for the birth of stars in galaxies, with as much ‘feedback’ energy needed to prevent their creation as gravity provides to help them form.”
Although a maverick’s view should not be accepted simply because it is a maverick view, it should be evaluated fairly. As David Tyler wrote recently on Uncommon Descent, “Consensus science is sleep-inducing.” Rigorous debate is preventive medicine against lethargic, authoritative consensus. Another lesson lurking in this article is that widely-accepted theories can rest on assumptions that are, in principle, fallible. The measurements on which cosmological theories are based are extremely tenuous. Would it not be a cosmic joke to find out that Jupiter is not a reliable calibration source, and all this “precision cosmology” rhetoric has been misplaced? Actually, in cosmology, the number of assumptions stacked on assumptions is comparable to the storytelling in Darwinism. Getting from temperature blips of one in 100,000 to grand scenarios of cosmic evolution and landscapes of multiple universes makes even Darwinism look tame – and you know what that implies.