Tag Archives: Big Bang

Astronomers chart the universe’s slow death

Using data gathered from more than 200,000 galaxies, astronomers have been able to measure the slow decline in the universe’s energy output since the Big Bang.

The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe. “The Universe will decline from here on in, sliding gently into old age. The Universe has basically sat down on the sofa, pulled up a blanket and is about to nod off for an eternal doze,” concludes Simon Driver.

I wish to note the significant uncertainty of this result. While this result is important and does strongly suggest that the universe is dying, 200,000 galaxies is hardly a significant representation of the universe’s galaxy population.

Gravitational wave/inflation discovery literally bites the dust

The uncertainty of science: The big discovery earlier this year of gravitational waves confirming the cosmological theory of inflation has now been found to be completely bogus. Instead of being caused by gravitational waves, the detection was caused by dust in the Milky Way.

Even while the mainstream press was going nuts touting the original announcement, I never even posted anything about it. To me, there were too many assumptions underlying the discovery, as well as too many data points with far too large margins of error, to trust the result. It was interesting, but hardly a certain discovery. Now we have found that the only thing certain about it was that it wasn’t the discovery the scientists thought.

Nor is this unusual for the field of cosmology. Because much of this sub-field of astronomy is dependent on large uncertainties and assumptions, its “facts” are often disproven or untrustworthy. And while the Big Bang theory itself unquestionably fits the known facts better than any other theory at this time, there remain too many uncertainties to believe in it without strong skepticism.

Some scientists are now calling into question the BICEP2 results that confirmed the existence of inflation just after the Big Bang.

The uncertainty of science: Some scientists are now calling into question the BICEP2 results that confirmed the existence of inflation just after the Big Bang.

The biggest discovery in cosmology in a decade could turn out to be an experimental artifact—at least according to an Internet rumor. The team that reported the discovery is sticking by its work, however.

Eight weeks ago, researchers working with a specialized telescope at the South Pole reported the observation of pinwheel-like swirls in the polarization of the afterglow of the big bang, or cosmic microwave background (CMB). Those swirls are traces of gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime a sliver of a second after the big bang, argue researchers working with the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) telescope. Such waves fulfilled a prediction of a wild theory called inflation, which says that in the first 10-32 seconds, the universe underwent a mind-boggling exponential growth spurt. Many scientists hailed the result as a “smoking gun” for inflation.

However, scientists cautioned that the result would have to be scrutinized thoroughly. And now a potential problem with the BICEP analysis has emerged, says Adam Falkowski, a theoretical particle physicist at the Laboratory of Theoretical Physics of Orsay in France and author of the Résonaances blog. The BICEP researchers mapped the polarization of the CMB across a patch of sky measuring 15° by 60°. To study the CMB signal, however, they first had to subtract the “foreground” of microwaves generated by dust within our galaxy, and the BICEP team may have done that incorrectly, Falkowski reports on his blog today.

When the BICEP2 result was announced, the media went crazy over it. I however didn’t even post anything about it, as I know from experience that cosmological results such as this are very tentative and require confirmation. Too often, they turn out to be false results, with the scientists in charge fooled by the uncertain nature of their data.

The results from BICEP2 might still hold up. We need to wait a bit longer to find out.

Cosmologists, using new data, are now reconsidering their theories on the manner in which the universe began organizing itself after the Big Bang.

The uncertainty of science: Cosmologists, using new data, are now reconsidering their theories on the manner in which the universe began organizing itself after the Big Bang.

Scientists call it the epoch of reionization, the period in which a newborn universe went from darkness to light as the first stars, galaxies and black holes began forming and radiating energy.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature, researchers are challenging one long-held conception about how quickly the universe began warming during this transition period. Based on observations of X-ray emissions from binary star systems, as well as new mathematical models, cosmologists at Tel Aviv University and Harvard say that heating of the universe progressed much more slowly, and uniformly, than previously thought.

One scientist’s modeling of the early universe suggests to him that intelligent life could have evolved as early as 15 million years after the Big Bang.

Theories! One scientist’s modeling of the early universe suggests to him that intelligent life could have evolved as early as 15 million years after the Big Bang.

This is fun stuff, but entirely theoretical and not to be taken very seriously. We know with certainty as much about the early universe as a mouse understands Shakespeare. To predict accurately the nature or even existence of life at that time is stretching our knowledge considerably.

Astronomers have found a dozen supernovae taking place closer to the Big Bang than ever detected.

Astronomers have found a dozen supernovae taking place only a few billion years after the Big Bang.

[The results suggest that these types of supernovae] were exploding about five times more frequently 10 billion years ago than they are today. These supernovas are a major source of iron in the universe, the main component of the Earth’s core and an essential ingredient of the blood in our bodies.

The most distant quasar ever found

Astronomers have found the most distant quasar ever, and are baffled by its existence.

The light from the quasar started its journey toward us when the universe was only 6% of its present age, a mere 770 million years after the Big Bang, at a redshift of about 7.1 [3]. “This gives astronomers a headache,” says lead author Daniel Mortlock, from Imperial College London. “It’s difficult to understand how a black hole a billion times more massive than the Sun can have grown so early in the history of the universe. It’s like rolling a snowball down the hill and suddenly you find that it’s 20 feet across!”