what if big bang never happened?

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      * 02 July 2005 New Scientist
      * Marcus Chown

        WHAT if the big bang never happened? Ask cosmologists this and
        they'll usually tell you it is a stupid question. The evidence,
        after all, is written in the heavens. Take the way galaxies are
        scattered across the sky, or witness the fading afterglow of the
        big bang fireball. Even the way the atoms in your body have come
        into being over the eons. They are all smoking guns that point
        to the existence 13.7 billion years ago of an ultra-hot,
        ultra-dense state known as the big bang.

        Or are they? A small band of researchers is starting to ask the
        question no one is supposed to ask. Last week the dissidents
        met to review the evidence at the first ever Crisis in Cosmology
        conference in Monção, Portugal. There they argued that
        cosmologists' most cherished theory of the universe fails to
        explain certain crucial observations. If they are right, the
        universe could be a lot weirder than anyone imagined. But before
        venturing that idea, say the dissidents, it is time for some
        serious investigation into the big bang's validity and its

        “Look at the facts,” says Riccardo Scarpa of the European Southern
        Observatory in Santiago, Chile. “The basic big bang model fails to
        predict what we observe in the universe in three major ways.” The
        temperature of today's universe, the expansion of the cosmos, and
        even the presence of galaxies, have all had cosmologists scrambling
        for fixes. “Every time the basic big bang model has failed to
        predict what we see, the solution has been to bolt on something new
        – inflation, dark matter and dark energy,” Scarpa says.

        For Scarpa and his fellow dissidents, the tinkering has reached an
        unacceptable level. All for the sake of saving the notion that the
        universe flickered into being as a hot, dense state. “This isn't
        science,” says Eric Lerner who is president of Lawrenceville Plasma
        Physics in West Orange, New Jersey, and one of the conference
        organisers. “Big bang predictions are consistently wrong and are
        being fixed after the event.” So much so, that today's “standard
        model” of cosmology has become an ugly mishmash comprising the
        basic big bang theory, inflation and a generous helping of dark
        matter and dark energy.

        The fact that the conference went ahead at all is an important step
        forward, say its organisers. Last year they wrote an open letter
        warning that failure to fund research into big bang alternatives
        was suppressing free debate in the field of cosmology (New Scientist,
        22 May 2004, p 20).

        The trouble, says Lerner, who headed the list of more than 30
        signatories, is that cosmology is bankrolled by just a few sources,
        and the committees that control those purse strings are dominated by
        supporters of the big bang. Critics of the standard model of
        cosmology are not just uncomfortable about the way they feel it has
        been cobbled together. They also point to specific observations that
        they believe cast doubt on cosmology's standard model.

        “Dark matter is turning up in places where it shouldn't exist”

        Take the most distant galaxies ever spotted, for example. According
        to the accepted view, when we observe ultra-distant galaxies we
        should see them in their youth, full of stars not long spawned from
        gas clouds. This is because light from these faraway galaxies has
        taken billions of years to reach us, and so the galaxies must appear
        as they were shortly after the big bang. But there is a problem.
        “We don't see young galaxies,” says Lerner. “We see old ones.”

        He cites recent observations of high-red-shift galaxies from NASA's
        Spitzer space telescope. A galaxy's red shift is a measure of how
        much the universe has expanded since it emitted its light. As the
        light travels through an expanding universe, its wavelength gets
        stretched, as if the light wave were drawn on a piece of elastic.
        The increase in wavelength corresponds to a shift towards the red
        end of the spectrum.

        The Spitzer galaxies have red shifts that correspond to a time when
        the universe was between about 600 million and 1 billion years old.
        Galaxies this young should be full of newborn stars that emit blue
        light because they are so hot. The galaxies should not contain many
        older stars that are cool and red. “But they do,” says Lerner.

        Spitzer is the first telescope able to detect red stars in faraway
        galaxies because it is sensitive to infrared light. This means it
        can detect red light from stars in high-red-shift galaxies that has
        been pushed deep into the infrared during its journey to Earth.
        “It turns out these galaxies aren't young at all,” says Lerner.
        “They have pretty much the same range of stars as present-day

        And that is bad news for the big bang. Among the stars in today's
        galaxies are red giants that have taken billions of years to
        burn all their hydrogen and reach this bloated phase. So the
        Spitzer observations suggest that some of the stars in
        ultra-distant galaxies are older than the galaxies themselves,
        which plunges the standard model of cosmology into crisis.

        Fog-filled universe
        Not surprisingly, cosmologists have panned Lerner's theories. They
        put the discrepancy down to large uncertainties in estimating the
        ages of galaxies. But Lerner has a reply. He points to other
        distant objects that appear much older than they ought to be.
        “At high red shift, we also observe clusters and huge superclusters
        of galaxies,” he says, arguing that it would have taken far longer
        than a billion years for galaxies to clump together to form such
        giant structures.

        His solution to the puzzle is extreme. Rather than being caused
        by the expanding universe, he believes that the red shift is
        down to some other mechanism. But at this stage it is only a guess.
        “I admit I don't know what that mechanism might be,” Lerner says,
        “though I believe it is intrinsic to light.”

        To test his idea, he would like to see sensitive experiments on
        Earth capable of detecting minute changes in light. One
        possibility would be to modify the LIGO detector in Hanford,
        Washington state. LIGO is designed to detect gravitational waves,
        the warps in space-time created by events such as neutron star
        collisions. To do this it bounces perpendicular beams of laser
        light hundreds of times between mirrors 4 kilometres apart,
        looking for subtle shifts in the beams' lengths. With a few tweaks,
        Lerner believes that LIGO could be modified to measure any
        intrinsic red-shifting that light might undergo.

        If the experiment ever gets the go-ahead and Lerner is proved
        right, the implications would be immense, not least because the
        tapestry of cosmology as we know it would unravel. Without an
        expanding universe, there would be no need to invoke dark
        energy to account for the apparent acceleration of that expansion.
        Nor would there be any reason to suppose the big bang was the
        ultimate beginning. “I can prove that the universe wasn't born
        13.7 billion years ago,” says Lerner. “The big bang never happened.”

        However, Lerner's claims leave plenty of awkward questions. Among
        them is the matter of the cosmic microwave background. First
        detected in 1965, the vast majority of cosmologists believe that
        this faint, all-pervading soup of microwaves is the dying glow
        of the big bang, and proof of the ultimate beginning. According
        to big bang theory, the hot radiation that filled space after
        the birth of the universe has been trapped inside ever since
        because it has nowhere else to go. As the universe expanded over
        the past 13.7 billion years, the radiation has cooled to today's
        temperature of less than 3 kelvin above absolute zero.

        So if there was no big bang, where did the cosmic microwave
        background come from? Lerner believes that cosmologists have got
        the origin of the microwave glow all wrong. “If you wake up in a
        tent and everything around you is white, you don't conclude you've
        seen the start of the universe,” he says. “You conclude you're in

        Rather than coming from the big bang, Lerner believes that the
        cosmic background radiation is really starlight that has been
        absorbed and re-radiated. It is an old idea that was widely
        promoted by the late cosmologist and well-known big bang sceptic
        Fred Hoyle. He believed that starlight was absorbed by needle-like
        grains of iron ejected by supernovae and then radiated as
        microwaves. But Hoyle never found any evidence to back up his ideas
        and many cosmologists dismissed them.

        “Some of the stars in distant galaxies appear older than the
        universe itself”

      #195286 Reply

        Lerner's idea is similar, though he thinks that threads of
          electrically charged gas called plasma are responsible, rather
          than iron whiskers. Jets of plasma are squirted into
          intergalactic space by highly energetic galaxies known as
          quasars, and Lerner believes that such plasma filaments
          continually fragmented until they filled the universe like fog.
          This fog then scattered the infrared light radiated by dust
          that had in turn absorbed starlight. By doing so, Lerner
          believes, the infrared radiation became uniform in all
          directions, just as the cosmic microwave background appears
          to be.

          All this is possible, he argues, because standard cosmology
          theory has overlooked processes involving plasmas. “All
          astronomers know that 99.99 per cent of matter in the
          universe is in the form of plasma, which is controlled by
          electromagnetic forces,” he says. “Yet all astronomers insist
          on believing that gravity is the only important force in the
          universe. It is like oceanographers ignoring hydrodynamics.”
          To make progress, Lerner is calling for theories that include
          plasma phenomena as well as gravity, and for more rigorous
          testing of theory against observations.

          Of course, Lerner's ideas are extremely controversial and few
          people are convinced, but that doesn't stop other researchers
          questioning the standard theory too. They have their own ideas
          about what is wrong with it. In Scarpa's case, the mysterious
          dark matter is at fault.

          Dark matter has become an essential ingredient in cosmology's
          standard model. That's because the big bang on its own fails
          to describe how galaxies could have congealed from the matter
          forged shortly after the birth of the universe. The problem
          is that gas and dust made from normal matter were spread too
          evenly for galaxies to clump together in just 13.7 billion years.
          Cosmologists fix this problem by adding to their brew a vast
          amount of invisible dark matter which provides the extra tug
          needed to speed up galaxy formation.

          The same gravitational top-up helps to explain the rapid motion
          of outlying stars in galaxies. Astronomers have measured stars
          orbiting their galactic centres so fast that they ought to fly
          off into intergalactic space. But dark matter's extra gravity
          would explain how the galaxies hold onto their speeding stars.
          Similarly, dark matter is needed to explain how clusters of
          galaxies can hold on to galaxies that are orbiting the cluster's
          centre so fast they ought to be flung away.

          But dark matter may not be the cure-all it seems, warns Scarpa.
          What worries him are inconsistencies with the theory. “If you
          believe in dark matter, you discover there is too much of it,”
          he says. In particular, his observations point to dark matter
          in places cosmologists say it shouldn't exist. One place no one
          expects to see it is in globular clusters, tight knots of stars
          that orbit the Milky Way and many other galaxies. Unlike normal
          matter, the dark stuff is completely incapable of emitting light
          or any other form of electromagnetic radiation. This means a
          cloud of the stuff cannot radiate away its internal heat, a
          process vital for gravitational contraction, so dark matter
          cannot easily clump together at scales as small as those of
          globular clusters.

          Scarpa's observations tell a different story, however. He and his
          colleagues have found evidence that the stars in globular clusters
          are moving faster than the gravity of visible matter can explain,
          just as they do in larger galaxies. They have studied three globular
          clusters, including the Milky Way's biggest, Omega Centauri, which
          contains about a million stars. In all three, they find the same
          wayward behaviour. So if isn't dark matter, what is going on?

          Scarpa's team believes the answer might be a breakdown of Newton's
          law of gravity, which says an object's gravitational tug is
          inversely proportional to the square of your distance from it.
          Their observations of globular clusters suggest that Newton's
          inverse square law holds true only above some critical acceleration.
          Below this threshold strength, gravity appears to dissipate more
          slowly than Newton predicts.

          Exactly the same effect has been spotted in spiral galaxies and
          galaxy-rich clusters. It was identified more than 20 years ago by
          Mordehai Milgrom at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, who
          proposed a theory known as modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) to
          explain it. Scarpa points out that the critical acceleration of
          10-10 metres per second per second that was identified for
          galaxies appears to hold for globular clusters too. And his work
          has led him to the same conclusion as Milgrom: “There is no need
          for dark matter in the universe,” says Scarpa.

          It is a bold claim to make. And not surprisingly, MOND has had
          plenty of critics over the years. One of cosmologists' biggest
          gripes is that MOND is not compatible with Einstein's theory of
          relativity, so it is not valid for objects travelling close to
          the speed of light or in very strong gravitational fields.
          In practice, this means MOND has been powerless to make
          predictions about pulsars, black holes and, most importantly,
          the big bang. But this has now been fixed by Jacob Bekenstein
          at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

          Bekenstein's relativistic version of the theory already appears
          to be bearing fruit. In May a team led by Constantinos Skordis
          of the University of Oxford showed that relativistic MOND can
          make cosmological predictions. The researchers have reproduced
          both the observed properties of the cosmic microwave background
          and the distribution of galaxies throughout the universe

          Gravity in crisis

          Scarpa believes that MOND is a crucial body blow for the big
          bang. “It means that the law of gravity from which we derive
          the big bang is wrong,” he says. He insists that cosmologists
          are interpreting astronomical observations using the wrong
          framework. And he urges them to go back to the drawing board
          and derive a cosmological model based on MOND.

          For now, his plea seems to be falling mostly on deaf ears. Yet
          there is more evidence that there could be something wrong with
          the standard model of cosmology. And it is evidence that many
          cosmologists are finding harder to dismiss because it comes from
          the jewel in the crown of cosmology instruments, the Wilkinson
          Microwave Anisotropy Probe. “It could be telling us something
          fundamental about our universe, maybe even that the simplest big
          bang model is wrong,” says João Magueijo of Imperial College London.

          Since its launch in 2001, WMAP has been quietly taking the
          temperature of the universe from its vantage point 1.5 million
          kilometres out in space. The probe measures the way the temperature
          of the cosmic microwave background varies across the sky.
          Cosmologists believe that the tiny variations from one place to
          another are an imprint of the state of the universe about 300,000
          years after the big bang, when matter began to clump together under
          gravity. Hotter patches correspond to denser regions, and cooler
          patches reflect less dense areas. These density variations began
          life as quantum fluctuations in the vacuum in the first split second
          of the universe's existence, and were subsequently amplified by a
          brief period of phenomenally fast expansion called inflation.

          Because the quantum fluctuations popped up at random, the hot and
          cold spots we see in one part of the sky should look much like
          those in any other part. And because the cosmic background
          radiation is a feature of the universe as a whole rather than any
          single object in it, none of the hot or cold regions should be
          aligned with structures in our corner of the cosmos. Yet this is
          exactly what some researchers are claiming from the WMAP results.

          Earlier this year, Magueijo and his Imperial College colleague
          Kate Land reported that they had found a bizarre alignment in the
          cosmic microwave background. At first glance, the pattern of hot
          and cold spots appeared random, as expected. But when they looked
          more closely, they found something unexpected. It is as if you were
          listening to an anarchic orchestra playing some random cacophony,
          and yet when you picked out the violins, trombones and clarinets
          separately, you discovered that they are playing the same tune.

          Like an orchestral movement, the WMAP results can be analysed as
          a blend of patterns of different spatial frequencies.
          When Magueijo and Land looked at the hot and cold spots this way,
          they noticed a striking similarity between the individual
          patterns. Rather than being spattered randomly across the sky,
          the spots in each pattern seemed to line up along the same
          direction. With a good eye for a newspaper headline, Magueijo
          dubbed this alignment the axis of evil. “If it is true, this is
          an astonishing discovery,” he says.

          “Without an expanding universe, the big bang was not the ultimate

          That's because the result flies in the face of big bang theory,
          which rules out any such special or preferred direction. So could
          the weird effect be down to something more mundane, such as a
          problem with the WMAP satellite? Charles Bennett, who leads the
          WMAP mission at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
          Maryland, discounts that possibility. “I have no reason to think
          that any anomaly is an artefact of the instrument,” he says.

          Another suggestion is that heat given off by the Milky Way's
          dusty disk has not been properly subtracted from the WMAP signals
          and mimics the axis of evil. “Certainly there are some sloppy
          papers where insufficient attention has been paid to the signals
          from the Milky Way,” warns Bennett. Others point out that the
          conclusions are based on only one year's worth of WMAP signals.
          And researchers are eagerly awaiting the next batch, rumoured to
          be released in September.

          Yet Magueijo and Land are convinced that the alignment in the
          patterns does exist. “The big question is: what could have caused
          it,” asks Magueijo. One possibility, he says, is that the universe
          is shaped like a slab, with space extending to infinity in two
          dimensions but spanning only about 20 billion light years in the
          third dimension. Or the universe might be shaped like a bagel.
          Another way to create a preferred direction would be to have a
          rotating universe, because this singles out the axis of rotation
          as different from all other directions.

          Bennett admits he is excited by the possibility that WMAP has
          stumbled on something so important and fundamental about the
          universe. His hunch, though, is that the alignment is a fluke.
          “However, it's always possible the universe is trying to tell
          us something,” he says.

          Clearly, such a universe would flout a fundamental assumption of
          all big bang models: that the universe is the same in all places
          and in all directions. “People made these assumptions because,
          without them, it was impossible to simplify Einstein's equations
          enough to solve them for the universe,” says Magueijo. And if those
          assumptions are wrong, it could be curtains for the standard model
          of cosmology.

          That may not be a bad thing, according to Magueijo. “The standard
          model is ugly and embarrassing,” he says. “I hope it will soon
          come to breaking point.” But whatever replaced it would of course
          have to predict all the things the standard model predicts. “This
          would be very hard indeed,” concedes Magueijo.

          Meanwhile the axis of evil is peculiar enough that Bennett and his
          colleague Gary Hinsha have obtained money from NASA to carry out
          a five-year exhaustive examination of the WMAP signals. That should
          exclude the possibilities of the instrumental error and contamination
          once and for all. “The alignment is probably just a fluke but I
          really feel compelled to investigate it,” he says. “Who knows what
          we will find.”

          Lerner and his fellow sceptics are in little doubt: “What we may
          find is a universe that is very different than the increasingly
          bizarre one of the big bang theory.”

        #195287 Reply

        Julian Barbour's “End of Time” also contains a strong critique of the Big Bang. Barbour believes that time itself does not exist outside of our brains. Hence, the universe was never created; what we perceive as time is the relationship of Nows related in an unimaginably vast “relative configuration space.” It is a very difficult read but makes sense to me.

        #195288 Reply

          thanx for the info Igor. will take a bit to digest it all..

          I never heard of Julian Barbour, but he sounds sensible. Our concept of time is dependant on our own material perception and the effects of time on our surroundings.
          Seems like even if the “big bang” ever was, there's prolly been an infinite amount of them as well…

          Under the sun, is the evolution of consciousness the only thing that is ever truly new?
          Must be why new music is so appealing  ;D

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