Cosmology Could Be Way Off
The “lumpiness problem” in cosmology refuses to go away. This old conundrum about why the universe is lumpy with stars and galaxies has been around for decades. The big bang predicts no such lumps. Since the late 1990s, tiny differences in temperature measured in the cosmic background radiation held hope of being the seeds of lump formation (06/12/2008), provided theories added copious fudge factors like dark matter, dark energy and inflation. A new survey finds more clumps than expected, casting doubt on whether the fudge factors are wrong, the hot big bang is wrong, or relativity is wrong. Words can hardly express the gravity of the situation when gravity itself – an icon of scientific verity – is called into question.
An article by Lisa Grossman in Wired Science contains disturbing indications of the extent of ignorance by cosmologists. “Clumpiness of Distant Universe Surprises Astronomers,” she headlined her article about a measurement conducted by astronomers at University College London of galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, published in Physical Review Letters, that found twice the clumpiness with distance predicted. The study mapped galaxies at least 4 billion light-years away at length scales of 2 billion light years, representing a “reasonable fraction of the size of the universe” that “haven’t really been measured before.”
Notice the areas that could be wrong:
- General relativity: “Maybe on very large scales, Einstein’s general relativity is slightly wrong,” lead author Shaun Thomas said…. “gravity could behave differently on very large scales than it does on smaller scales, meaning Einstein’s theory of general relativity needs an overhaul.”
- Big Bang: “The extra clumps could call for a redesign of the standard model of cosmology,…”
- Gravity: “…and maybe a new understanding of how gravity works.”
- Dark energy: “The result could mean cosmologists need to reassess their understanding of dark energy, the mysterious force that drives the universe outward at an ever-increasing rate…. The extra lumps could also mean dark energy doesn’t exist at all.” (cf. 3/15/2008)
- Observability: “…the clumpiness could also come from systematic errors in the observations….”
The astronomers stand by their observations but don’t seem to know what to do with the lack of concordance with theory. The solution was put off into the future, in hopes that a new Dark Energy Survey will “help resolve lingering doubts.”
An astronomer was quoted tossing out an empty hope, “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.” How long should the public wait for the wizards to get it right? How many will remember the quandary long enough to compare their next announcement as success or failure?
If former confident claims about the big bang and dark energy are so flimsy, if astronomers cannot judge the vaility or their own observations, and if some of the most solid theories in all of science (gravity and general relativity) are due for an overhaul, how much trust can mere mortals place in the much less solid pronouncements coming from the wizards of biology?