Oh dear! My every good intention of doing September’s Breaking News on the science of Jules Verne has gone by the wayside—dashed by the cruel march of time to the pile labelled “Work In Progress”. How M. Verne’s literature could be seen as the latest news is something only Skywalker could comprehend, but be that as it may, I shall bless you with it in some (unspecified) future edition of Ndaba. My editor at this esteemed and widely-read journal has now also placed her regal presence upon the throne of omniscience and irresistible timekeeping at the Durban Centre meetings. Her hand “that the rod of empire might have swayed, or waked to ecstasy the living lyre”, now stills the rumble of inane thought—and lets the show begin!
And now, with a swift flash of legendary cunning, I revert to the old trick of plagiarising something from The Static Universe. The following excerpt is from chapter 7: The Microwave Background—Surround-Sound Radio.
Let’s face it; if the Big Bang chaps could show that the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation really is a picture of the early Universe as it commenced expansion, they’ve got me! They will have established beyond doubt that the Universe is indeed non-static, and given the Standard Model of Cosmology sorely needed “predictive” success. They would finally screw the lid down on the Big Bang critics that I seem to represent. I will have no choice but to knock my king over and concede the game. So why am I not worried?
Geoffrey Burbidge calls a spade a spade. In 2008, he published a marvellous review of the development of modern cosmology entitled A Realistic Cosmological Model Based on Observations and Some Theory Developed over the Last 90 Years. It is a necessary reminder that Professor Burbidge is really one of the greatest players in contemporary physics, and those that ignore him do so at their peril. He gets right to it:
From that time on one huge danger … is that all of the work on the CMB has been carried on by observers who are absolutely convinced that whatever they find, they are quite sure where it came from. This has led to a bandwagon so overwhelming that alternative interpretations of the data are hardly ever mentioned, never taught, or discussed at meetings, or referred to in text books.
Briefly, it happened like this: Theorists had for years expected to find some sort of radiation picture of the primordial fireball. Because it would have emanated from an unstructured, concentrated hot gas, it was anticipated that the radiation would be evenly distributed across the sky. The Cosmic Background Radiation, hopefully, would present neither point of origin nor preferred direction, and furthermore, would be free of any links to foreground structures. That is what they wished for. They wished also that when it finally was discovered, the rest of us would be so dazzled by the occasion that we too would declare that the surrounding long-wave radiation picture met all the requirements of their theory. Well some of us did not, and that included the individuals who discovered it, for the simple reason that they were not cosmologists and had never heard of universal background radiation.
In 1965, the attention of Princeton cosmologist Robert Dicke was caught by the efforts of a rather hapless pair of radio engineers at the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Arno Penzias and Bob Wilson were working on a telecommunications satellite project and were being bothered by persistent interference in the microwave band. No matter which way they pointed their oddly shaped radio antenna, there was an annoying hiss, and what was particularly frustrating to them was that it appeared to be coming from nowhere in particular.
When Dicke heard about their fortuitous discovery, particularly that it was apparently isotropic, he and his team pounced. The parameters of the theory were adjusted to fit what had been found, and observational verification was claimed. When they explained to the puzzled pair in New Jersey that they had made one of the most important discoveries in the history of science, and that glory and pecuniary abundance would surely follow, Arno and Bob changed their whole approach to the problem. Sure enough, they soon became world famous, earned the Nobel Prize, and no doubt made a few dollars out of the deal as well.
The whole matter of the universal background radiation is exhausting, and certainly beyond the scope of this small work. I intend in this chapter to touch the nerve; I shall attempt to distil several essential points from the theoretical wash colouring cosmological radiation, and thereby expose the wishful science that frames it. Unfortunately, cosmology in the 20th century was considered to be confined to one of only two camps—the expanding fireball hypothesis claimed by George Gamow, and the Steady State theory promoted by Fred Hoyle. It was in comparing these two models (with wilful bias favouring the former, it must be said) that we arrived at the appalling justification for the methodology of modern, consensus cosmology: Science as the lesser of two evils. How many times have we not heard someone say, in all earnestness, “We accept Big Bang Theory although it leaks like a sieve, simply because it seems to work better than the alternatives.” That’s science? Sounds like a game of gin rummy to me.
In cosmology, we would be forgiven for thinking that preference is for the greater evil, since Steady State generally employs far better physics than Big Bang Theory (and please, I imply no literal sense to the word “evil”; neither theory is wicked, merely imperfect to some degree). Success in the arena of competing ideas has always boiled down, not to bricks-and-mortar science, but to the measure of charisma and evangelical skill of the proponents. George Gamow was a star on the stage and Fred Hoyle only marginally less so. The others, I’m afraid, were rather dull. Consequently, many fine ideas fell by the wayside, including, in my opinion, the most realistic model of all, the static, equilibrium, endless Universe first proposed in 1928 by Nobel Laureate and author of the 3rd law of thermodynamics, Walther Nernst.
Nernst’s conception of a stationary Universe was supported and developed by illustrious physicists of the 20th century, including Erwin Finlay-Freundlich, Max Born, and Louis de Broglie; two of whom would themselves subsequently receive the Nobel Prize. Despite being crafted with exemplary physics based upon observation, it has been studiously ignored by mainstream space scientists for more than 80 years. Why cosmology should have been limited to a two-horse race—and latterly, to a one horse race—when there is so much good science opposing the sole remaining nag on the course is quite beyond me.
Clearly, the background radio signal eventually discovered by Penzias and Wilson had a far better fit to static Universe models heated by natural objects than it did the expanding fireball model of George Gamow. In 1961, Dr Gamow published his calculation of the background temperature: 50 kelvins, more than 17 times greater than that seen by Penzias and Wilson. It was undoubtedly Gamow’s legendary charisma and stage persona that carried the day for the extraordinary version of events that would triumph in cosmology. It was most certainly not because the facts were on his side.