Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Universe in 60 Seconds, Without "Dark Energy"

Between ideas which entertain you, benefit you, or contribute to your understanding of the Universe, here's a bit about "dark energy." Rob Knop of Galactic Interactions is getting very depressed. He was a member of the Supernova Cosmology Project, one of the "independent" groups that claimed to discover DE. Now he is worried about his research grant, tenure, and his job. His comments reveal what a closed clique cosmology is.

"I was in the SCP once upon a time, and once somebody at the NOAO figured out that I was no longer on the SCP proposals and papers, I was fair game. (It's hard to find an SCP or GRB person who's not all over those things.)

"I did have funding for a year and a half. It was part of an HST program. That was a proposal put in from LBNL, and I was still with the SCP at the time. I managed to convince Saul (Perlmutter) that I should get some fraction of the money from that proposal, since I was the one (together with Rachel Gibbons) who wrote the software for, oversaw, managed, and ran the supernova search."

"Turning a solid proposal into an outstanding proposal means you're surfing the wave - which means being lucky. I was writing supernova cosmology accelerating universe proposals in 2001-2003, which were surfing the wave, but had the fatal flaw that I was an individual junior investigator at an institution where none of the rest of the large collaboration was housed."

"Surfing the wave" does not mean fun in North Shore Oahu or Surfer's Paradise. Rob refers to following the fashionable trend. It means promoting an accelerating universe because everyone else does, just like the Emperor's New Clothes. The difference is that standing on a surfboard requires a backbone.

One Trouble With Physics is that the field is a republic of fear. Large collaborations depend upon uniformity of thought. One's career depends on following the party line. Even members of the collaboration live in dread of losing funding and falling out of the field. Opportunities are limited for women, minorities and all us young kids.

On Thursday Adam Riess and Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute are scheduled "to announce the discovery that dark energy has been an ever-present constituent of space for most of the universe's history." Here is their data chart. It is more accurate to chart redshifts logarithmically. Then you can more clearly see that c is changing.

Riess and company's big announcement may mirror their paper from 2004, astro-ph/0402512. The abstract of that paper concludes: "Our constraints are consistent with the static nature of and value of w expected for a cosmological constant (i.e., wo = -1.0, dw/dz = 0), and are inconsistent with very rapid evolution of dark energy." He is back to arguing for a cosmological constant rather than evolving DE. What may be ever-present is a changing speed of light.

Riess was a postdoc at Berkeley in 1998, not part of the Supernova Cosmology Project but the rival High-Z Supernova Search led by Brian Schmidt from Australia. Riess was first author on a paper claiming discovery of cosmological constant. His office at Campbell Hall was less than 500 metres from Saul Perlmutter, leader of the SCP. This enormous distance ensured that the two supernova groups were truly independent.

In his book ORIGINS, Neil Tyson helps finish the story: "In striving for this goal, the astrophysics community struck a mother lode of good fortune in having two competing teams of supernova observers. The supernova results, first announced in February 1998, had an impact so great that no single group could have survived the natural skepticism of cosmologists to the overthrow of their widely accepted models of the universe. Because the two observing teams directed their skepticism primarily at each other, they briliantly searched for errors in the other team's data or interpretation. When they pronounced themselves satisfied, despite their human prejudices, that their competitors were careful and competent, the cosmological world had little choice but to accept, albeit with some restraint, the news from the frontiers of space."

Tyson is saying that a radical idea from just one source, even one collaboration, would not have survived. Now we see why physics is stuck in a rut. Unlike other blogs, this one gives time to competing ideas. You can decide for yourself whether there is "dark energy" or a changing speed of light. The only question is, will anyone listen?


Blogger Kea said...

The only question is, will anyone listen?

I'm beginning to wonder.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Louise, please tell us that somebody at NASA is thinking more carefully about the data. This is too depressing.

12:18 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI Kea: Yes, some days are discouraging. However more and more people are listening. I'm getting more press attention and requests for talks. The "dark energy" proponents are in big trouble, as Knop's writings show. I am going to save NASA about a billion dollars.

Trying to get a paper published where others will read it, even on arxiv, has been frustrating for both of us. That will be coming, though it is hard to tell when.

2:00 PM  

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