picture of the day
A graphic illustration of the “standard”
picture of the universe today. Only about four percent is visible
About 70 percent is “dark energy”. Credit: NASA
Jun 12, 2007
The Ever-Elusive "Dark Energy"
Observed motions in the heavens have always posed unsettling challenges to
the suppositions of cosmologists. But critics say that things have
gotten entirely out of hand with today’s speculations about
invisible energy and “accelerating expansion” of the universe.
astronomers began to analyze discrepancies between motions of spiral
galaxies and the requirements of gravitational theory, they found it
necessary to postulate large quantities of
placed wherever it was needed to “explain” what they were seeing.
At times this
remedy reached humorous proportions. When astronomers discovered a
cloud of hydrogen (VIRGOHI21), estimated to lie some 50 million
light-years from Earth, they were perplexed by its speed of
rotation. To achieve a fit with their gravitational model, they were
forced to invent not just a modest supplement, but a thousand
times more “dark matter” than visible matter.
Such leaps of
faith, however, are dwarfed by the more recent appeals to a
mysterious concept called “dark energy”—summoned to prevent a
complete collapse of modern cosmology and in particular its
cherished “starting point”, the big bang. Certain principles of the
big bang hypothesis are foundational. To give up these principles
would be to abandon the hypothesis. One such principle is the
standard interpretation of “redshift” (the shift of spectra from
distant objects in space toward the red end of the light spectrum).
Astronomers view redshift as a reliable indicator of the speed at
which an object is moving away from the observer. The result of this
interpretation is the now-famous “expanding universe”. Applying
assumptions that once seemed obvious, the redshifted objects in
space must mean that the universe is growing larger, as the
distances between observed objects grows ever greater.
foundational principle is that of an electrically neutral,
gravity-driven universe. And if gravity is the controlling force,
then it follows that distant objects’ velocities of recession, set
in motion by the big bang, are slowing down—an inescapable
consequence of gravity. In fact, this too was once a foundational
assumption of the big bang theory.
astronomers’ confidence was shattered when it was realized from the
study of a particular class of supernovae, that something was
dreadfully wrong. It appeared that the “expansion” of the universe
was not slowing down at all. The troublemakers were the “Type Ia”
supernovae, which astronomers believed they understood well enough
to use as “standard candles”, with a dependable and absolute
magnitude that could be compared to apparent
magnitudes to give reliable distances.
But when the astronomers plotted the
distances against the redshift-determined velocities of recession,
the result was a staggering contradiction of their theoretical
assumption. The figures suggested that the “expansion” of the
universe was accelerating.
Perhaps this would have been a good
time to reconsider theoretical assumptions. But instead, the
mathematicians, led by cosmologist Michael Turner, embarked on new
flights of fancy, envisioning something unseen, untestable, and even
more bizarre than dark matter. They imagined that the universe must
be filled with invisible energy or “negative pressure”—a kind of
“gravity that repels”.
gravity gently binds planets, stars and galaxies together, dark
energy tugs on the fabric of time and space, pushing
galaxies apart ever faster and faster into the farthest reaches of
the universe”. (From an article, “Astrophysics
Challenged By Dark Energy Finding”, at Space.com, April 10, 2001,
pages, we have challenged the assumptions underlying such unfounded
conjectures. What does “dark energy” and “fabric of time and space”
really mean? To begin with, cosmologists make a
fundamental mistake in ignoring the electric force in the cosmos—a
force whose presence has been made abundantly clear by new
instruments for imaging objects in space.
Supernova 1987a – the closest ever studied – shows that
astronomers do not understand the mechanism
that produces supernovae: it exhibits unmistakable signs of
electrical discharge, contradicting the idea that supernovae can be
used as “standard candles” (another idea founded on theoretical
supposition, not fact). Indeed, the light curves of supernovae in
highly redshifted host galaxies exhibit a number of recognized
anomalies. The claim that their “faintness” points to the presence
of “dark energy” does not follow, given our
present state of ignorance about these objects.
Moreover, the standard assumption that
redshift can only be equated with velocity of recession is disputed
by some of the world’s most distinguished astronomers, including
Halton Arp, the late Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, and
others. Edwin Hubble himself did not accept the equation as
self-evident. It is pretentious to ignore the warnings of highly
In fact, leading plasma experts tell us that high-energy
discharge can produce redshift having no connection to
velocity of recession. Hence, it is no longer reasonable to continue
with “business as usual”, applying the Doppler interpretation of
redshift in disregard of the evidence for intrinsic redshift.
The first requirement, before pursuing the chimera of “dark energy”, is to
revisit first principles—a subject we intend to explore in coming
Pictures of the Day.