The science is never settled

posted in: Life and things, Science fact | 0

This post might be a bit… sciencey for some of you, but I told everybody that I’m a space nut, so you’ve been warned.

A deep field image from the James Webb Space Telescope

I became interested in astronomy and cosmology at a time when the Big Bang theory was not completely accepted as the true origin of the universe. Yes, I’m that old 😊.

These days, the Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the origin and evolution of the universe. It suggests that the universe began as an extremely hot and dense single point approximately 13.8 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. The theory is supported by observational evidence, such as the cosmic microwave background radiation and the distribution of galaxies.

The idea of an expanding universe was proposed by Belgian astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître in 1927. However, the term “Big Bang” was coined later by British astronomer Fred Hoyle in a somewhat dismissive manner during a radio broadcast in 1949. He was a proponent of the steady-state theory, an alternative cosmological model to the Big Bang theory. Hoyle, along with his collaborators Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold, developed the steady-state theory in the late 1940s.

The steady-state theory proposed that the universe has no beginning or end and maintains a constant density over time. According to this theory, new matter is continuously created to fill the space as the universe expands, allowing it to remain in a steady state. This concept challenged the idea of a singular event like the Big Bang and suggested a more eternal and unchanging cosmos.

Over time, observational evidence, including Edwin Hubble’s observations of distant galaxies moving away from us, provided strong support for the idea of an expanding universe and, by extension, the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang theory became widely accepted within the scientific community by the mid-20th century as more evidence accumulated. Today, it stands as the most widely supported explanation for the origin and evolution of the universe.

Until the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The JWST is located about 1.5 million kilometers (0.93 million miles) from Earth and has an array of instruments that enables it to collect data in infrared and other types of radiation. It has collected data from far distant parts of the universe. It’s important to remember that light moves at ~300,000km per second. According to Einstein’s theory, that’s immutable. It takes about 8 minutes for light to travel from the sun to the Earth so we can only see the sun as it was 8 minutes ago. The same thing works for galaxies. Whenever we look at an object a long way away, we’re looking into the past. And the data from the JWST is revealing things that, according to the theory, should not exist, like old stars and black holes very close to the alleged beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

Scientists are having to pause and rethink. Which is good.

I’m not a scientist. But to me, even if the observations fit, the questions remain. What came before the Big Bang (which should really be called the Great Expansion – there was no explosion (or so I’ve read)). And will the galaxies keep on drifting further and further apart? How will the universe end? Here’s an animated presentation that shows the basic theories. It’s about 4 minutes so you can watch it before your tea/coffee cools.

Some scientists are also questioning the idea of dark matter and dark energy. As shown in that little video, they are concepts in astrophysics and cosmology used to explain certain observed phenomena that cannot be accounted for by visible matter and conventional forms of energy. In other words, if your equation doesn’t give the results you want, introduce a new variable. Dark matter isn’t the stuff between the stars. If you look at the Milky Way on a dark night, you’ll see patches of darkness amongst the stars. That’s dust and it’s as real as a planet or a star. Dark matter and dark energy are supposed to be undetectable by any instruments we have. Even so, much fruitless time and material has been spent trying to prove they exist.

To be sure, sometimes when equations don’t work as expected, it’s because something is missing. In fact, that’s how Neptune was ‘discovered’. In the mid-19th century, two astronomers, Urbain Le Verrier in France and John Couch Adams in England, independently calculated the position of a hypothetical eighth planet based on the perturbations they had observed in Uranus’s orbit. Telescopes were trained on the point in question – and there it was – Neptune.

I recently watched a fascinating video which talks about the Big Bang, dark matter/energy, and equations that don’t work unless you add something that doesn’t exist. It questions how an object (a quasar) that is supposed to be much further away than the galaxy behind it, is in front of that galaxy. That would indicate that the calculation of the quasar’s distance from Earth is wrong. (‘Quasar’ is short for “quasi-stellar radio source,” an extremely energetic and distant celestial object.)

The video is about 20 minutes long and worth your time if you’re interested in these things. Don’t worry, there’s not a lot of maths – that would be out of my comfort zone.

That’s the thing about real science. It’s always being questioned and tested against reality. If the theory says something is supposed to happen, and it doesn’t, then the theory has to be reconsidered. Climate change zealots ought to keep that in mind,

If you’ve managed to get this far, you might be interested in a new collection of my books I’ve put together. The Imperial Agent collection offers all three Brent, Tian, and puss books in one volume. They’ve all been published individually before, but if you haven’t read them, they’re cheaper in a bundle. Here’s the link. The book is in preorder and will be published on 18th March – next Monday.

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