OK, how did I miss this article?
On the Popular Science website (popsci.com), dated 9/25/2009, is an article titled “Mathematicians’ Alternate Model of the Universe Explains Away the Need For Dark Energy” — subheading: “An alternative theory eliminates dark energy by placing Earth at the center of expansion.” Actually, it is a “Reader’s Digest” version of a larger article from Seed magazine titled “Erasing Dark Energy” — pre-story tease: “Why do we need dark energy to explain the observable universe? Two mathematicians propose an alternative solution that, while beautiful, may raise even more questions than it answers.”
Here’s the gist of it. Since about 1998, physics has believed that there is some sort of “dark energy” causing the universe to accelerate its expansion. This “dark energy” is supposed to make up about three-quarters of the universe, with its equally mysterious cousin, “dark matter,” making up another 20%, leaving plain-old matter (like you and me and cheeseburgers) making up about 4%. However, physicists have yet to really agree on the nature of this mysterious “dark matter.” Its inclusion solves some of their baffling observations about the universe, but it remains an uncomfortable mystery.
Enter two mathematicians, Blake Temple and Joel Smoller. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, suggest a solution to the accelerating universe that doesn’t require conjuring up anything like “dark matter” — in fact, it doesn’t require conjuring up anything new at all. Their solution works with the current laws of physics we already have.
Their solution? That the acceleration seen is due to an expanding shockwave that occurred after the Big Bang–a shockwave that would have originated very near the Earth.
Did you catch that? A shockwave, plowing through the universe and spreading out the galaxies that originated near the Earth.
To say that such an idea unnerves many modern cosmologists would be an understatement. Modern cosmology takes as an article of faith that the Earth is nothing special. It’s called the Copernican Principle, named after Copernicus who concluded that the Sun and not the Earth was the center of our solar system. In modern science, Earth and the area around it is not allowed to be special or “favored” in any way compared to the rest of space — and it is certainly not allowed to be the center of the universe.
But Temple & Smoller’s theory suggests just such a thought.
Their shockwave has some things in its favor and some not so much so. For the former, the Earth-centered shockwave theory would also explain another phenomenon: the fact that Earth seems to be sitting in an odd “bubble of underdensity” — a region of the universe that doesn’t have much in it. Against it is the fact that dark energy also may account for some other observations, such as certain characteristics of the cosmic microwave background we observe in the universe.
But the biggest strike against it in the eyes of physicists? According to the article, it is the fact that it puts the earth at the center of the universe. As one particular cosmologist, Michael Wood-Vasey, is quoted in the Seed article concerning such a possibility: “It’s very philosophically disconcerting… It’s not very satisfying.”
Personally, regardless of how it turns out, I think one element of all of this is just rich. In the past, any ideas, such as Copernicus’, that suggested the Earth was not the center of the universe were (we are told) turned away as unacceptable and an affront to the truth — to be refused on principle, regardless of the facts or observations. Now, have we come to a point where the reverse bias is in play? Is a theory to be rejected solely on principle because it suggests the possibility that the Earth might be the center of the universe — again, regardless of the facts or observations?
Thankfully, the mere fact that their theory was published in the Proceedings speaks well of the scientific community, methinks. Astrophysicist Philip Hughes, who worked with the two mathematicians, says that we should be open to possibilities, especially given how much we still don’t know — and can’t even agree about — concerning “dark energy.” From the Seed article:
“But Hughes, who calls [the Earth-centered shockwave theory] ‘a tour de force of mathematical analysis,’ argues that though it presents a radical philosophical shift, the wave theory could nevertheless be useful to cosmologists.
“‘The concept of “dark energy” is a way of parameterizing our ignorance,’ he said in an email. ‘Given our shaky understanding of the physics behind it, I would hope that people are open-minded enough to see what might be learned from this work. We have for practical purposes no understanding of “dark energy”; there isn’t even a glimmer of consensus.'”
Is the Earth truly the center of the universe? Spiritually, we know it is the center of God’s plan, but is it actually physically the center, as well? Have we been so long in the God-must-be-banished woods of modern science that such a possibility is that hard to see?
These articles are a little more than a year old. Does anyone know of any new developments? Temple & Smoller were planning on developing their theory further and preparing it for testing. Any details out there about new news would be appreciated — feel free to post below.
Theories are theories, and I am not married to either idea, to be sure. God says through Solomon that “[i]t is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2), and at this stage God is certainly holding many cards close to His chest.
Yet, five centuries after Copernicus, it would be fascinating if modern cosmology concluded that Earth is, indeed, the center of the universe. What additional conclusions might follow?
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