Major Cosmic Questions Remain Unanswered
Some basic ideas about physics and astronomy remain so mysterious, and their explanations so flexible, they may lead some to question whether they should be called “hard sciences.”
It’s about time: Most of us take time for granted and wish we had more of it. Why, then, is it controversial for a physicist to claim that time is real? Live Science describes the ideas of Lee Smolin, who “controversially” claims that time is not an illusion, but a fundamental aspect of the universe. The question opens up a “meta-law dilemma” about whether laws of nature are inside or outside of time. If outside, Smolin argues, they have no meaning. The question also bears heavily on the nature of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and why it presents an asymmetrical “arrow of time.” In his article for New Scientist, Smolin said, “It might be a funny thing to say, but the idea that time is real requires a radical departure from the standard paradigm of physics.” Nature reviewed Smolin’s new book, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.
Theory of massive star formation encounters surprise: Science Daily reported that astrophysicists were surprised when a massive star disobeyed theory.
Standard candle isn’t: PhysOrg reported the possibility that gravitational lenses could make Type 1a supernovae, the leading cosmic distance indicators, much brighter than they are. The implications of this realization for estimating the size and age of the universe were not explored.
The antimatter puzzle: The BBC News, Live Science and Science Daily all reported that the Large Hadron Collider may have found a case of matter-antimatter asymmetry for a particular form of matter (the Bs meson) and its antiparticle. It’s not enough to explain the predominance of matter in our universe though. Jason Palmer at the BBC writes, “but puzzle abides.” Science Daily quoted the physicists saying that the observed asymmetry is “too small to account for the matter-dominated Universe.”
Grand finale came first: Another observation supports the surprising finding that the universe underwent extraordinary periods of star formation in its infancy (01/08/2002, 09/21/2005, 04/02/2009, 12/17/2010). Big bang theory posits that the universe began in a highly smooth state, but Science Daily wrote, “Astronomers using a world-wide collection of telescopes have discovered the most prolific star factory in the Universe, surprisingly in a galaxy so distant that they see as it was when the Universe was only six percent of its current age.” Another example, “a dust-obscured massive maximum-starburst galaxy at a redshift of 6.34,” was reported by Nature: “it seems that environments mature enough to form the most massive, intense starbursts existed at least as early as 880 million years after the Big Bang.”
Dark matter moment of truth: Science Magazine stated that the “dark matter mystery” is nearing its “moment of truth.” Dark matter is supposed to be much more plentiful than visible matter, according to leading theory, but has eluded all detection. One team thinking it has a potential detection of WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles, a theoretical kind of dark matter) is not ready to announce it. Others are urging caution because of other falsified claims in the past.
Higgs vs inflation: Nature reported that the properties of the newly-discovered Higgs boson “could spell trouble for leading Big Bang theory.” Astronomer Paul Steinhart believes data from the Planck telescope “introduce new, serious difficulties” for the popular hypothesis that the universe underwent exponential expansion in the first fraction of a second after the big bang.
A simple, ignored question: Back in January, in Live Science, Joel Shurkin asked, “Where did the universe’s magnetism come from?” That question is rarely addressed. The big bang would have begun with no magnetism, he says: “In the beginning there was no magnetism.” Today, though, it is one of the most powerful forces in stars and galaxies. Any incipient fields after the big bang should have cancelled each other out. Shurkin entertained a theory by one German physicist, Reinhard Schlickeiser, who thinks it began very weak until iron evolved in stars, then current flows magnified it. “You have to have something to start from,” his partner said, but that begs the question of where the something came from.
Inconstant speed of light: It’s not just creationists who put forth the idea that the speed of light is not constant. Live Science entertained ideas from two physicist teams who propose it, even though their estimates of the amount of change are slight. Still, it shows that fundamental ideas unquestioned since Einstein can still be questioned.
Hubris nonetheless: Given the amount of mystery remaining in physics and cosmology about the most basic questions, it seems blatantly hubristic for Stephen Hawking to continue claiming that “the big bang didn’t need God,” as Space.com reported. He’s assuming there even was a big bang. On April 16, long lines waited to hear him at Caltech mock God and religion. He even fancies himself a prophet. He said, “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet.” Fortunately for him, he won’t have to face accusers in the year 3013.
Never confuse the observable, repeatable, testable science that gives us cell phones with the unverifiable speculation emerging from the mouths and keyboards of secular scientists who don’t know what they’re talking about, who keep making theoretical claims that get falsified by new observations, and who intrude into metaphysical questions they are not philosophically prepared to approach. Their only qualification lies in the sophistication of their ignorance.