To understand cosmic cycles, study explosions. The moment a star dies in a supernova, an inexorable tide of creation goes forth, and it is a beautiful thing to behold. It represents cosmic nativity. A supernova (SN, plural SNe) takes a fraction of a second to explode, yet its brilliance outshines entire galaxies, and the nebula that remains is a starkly fascinating shadow in the picture of galaxies. In that telling instant, redistribution of assets saturates the environment, and consequently, it’s so easy to make supernovae major players in theories of cosmic evolution.

There’s a problem though. You see, SNe happen far less frequently than the old blue moon—about two observed per galaxy per century. That’s not nearly enough—by orders of magnitude—to account for stellar phenomena with anything approaching statistical significance. One per 50 years in a collection of a hundred billion stars isn’t going to do much in the bigger picture. But protagonists in the saga of expansion found a use for supernovae that quite exceeds the design parameters for exploding stars. They extracted from observational data a timescale warp in the fading glow of supernovae. Specifically, they targeted those supernovae known as Type 1A.

Convinced that they are standard candles, these devout women and men measured variability in time taken by 1A SNe to fade from their peak brilliance, and concluded with unseemly haste that the differences in apparent duration were not natural properties of varying explosive parameters, but indeed, the effect of expanding space. The idea behind it is that the “light curve”—the graphical plot of brightness varying with time—would be the same for all 1A supernovae if they were measured locally. Measured remotely from Earth, however, the light curves are not the same, and that is unacceptable for standard candles. Explanation: Because they lie at different cosmological distances, the variations in fade duration must be because of expanding spacetime, something known as “time dilation”. The immediate conclusion drawn from this interpretation is that all this proves universal expansion. What’s more, closer examination, subject to the necessary primary assumptions and fudge factors, indicated to an astonished scientific audience that the rate of expansion was increasing. The Universe, ladies and gentlemen, is accelerating away again. So they say…

The real issue here, as I understand it, is whether or not the universe is undergoing systematic expansion, and whether or not SNe rise times (the patterns caused by ebb and flow of luminosity) support that contention. Here’s the rub: Do the different light curves not tell us that 1A SNe are in fact not standard candles, and that they explode differently over time in each example? That is pretty much how we would normally interpret the observational data in the absence of an overriding theoretical model that tells us otherwise. Unless the progenitor stars of supernovae are geochemically and geophysically identical, we would expect each explosion to plot a unique course on a non-standard timeframe. No one can deny that observable debris fields left after supernovae are so different from one another in so many ways that to suggest the progenitors were all precisely alike is ludicrous. Here again, we are asked by cosmologists to abandon straightforward physics and analyse what we see and measure through their spectacles.

Do you get an inkling now how annoying that is for us?

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