Moncao, Portugal [June 23 – 25, 2005]
In May 2004, a group of about 30 concerned scientists published an open letter to the global scientific community in New Scientist in which they protested the stranglehold of Big Bang theory on cosmological research and funding. The letter was placed on the Internet (www.cosmologystatement.org) and rapidly attracted wide attention. It currently has about 300 signatories representing scientists and researchers of disparate backgrounds, and has led to a loose association now known as the Alternative Cosmology Group (www.cosmology.info). This writer was one of the early signatories to the letter, and holding the view that the Big Bang explanation of the Universe is scientifically untenable, patently illogical, and without any solid observational support whatsoever, became involved in the organisation of an international forum where we could share ideas and plan our way forward. That idea became a reality with the staging of the First Crisis in Cosmology Conference (CCC-1) in the lovely, medieval walled village of Moncao, far northern Portugal, over 3 days in June of this year.
It was sponsored in part by the University of Minho in Braga, Portugal, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Austin, Texas. Professor Jose Almeida of the Department of Physics at the University of Minho was instrumental in the organisation and ultimate success of an event that is now to be held annually. The conference was arranged in 3 sessions. On the first day, papers were presented on observations that challenge the present model, the second day dealt with conceptual difficulties in the standard model, and we concluded with alternative cosmological world-views. Since it is not practicable here to review all the papers presented (some 34 in total, plus 6 posters), I’ll selectively confine my comments to those that interested me particularly. The American Institute of Physics will publish the proceedings of the conference in their entirety in due course for those interested in the detail.
First up was professional astronomer Dr Riccardo Scarpa of the European Southern Observatory, Santiago, Chile. His job involves working with the magnificent Very Large Telescope array at Paranal, and I guess that makes him the envy of just about every astronomer with blood in his veins! His paper was on Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND), which I had eagerly anticipated and thoroughly appreciated. MOND is a very exciting development in observational astronomy used to make Dark Matter redundant in the explanation of cosmic gravitational effects like the anomalous rotational speeds of galaxies.
Mordehai Milgrom of the Weizmann Institute in Israel first noticed that mass discrepancies in stellar systems are detected only when the internal acceleration of gravity falls below the well-established value a0 = 1.2 x 10-8 cm s-2. The standard Newtonian gravitational values fit perfectly above this threshold, and below a0 MOND posits a breakdown of Newton’s law. The dependence then becomes linear with an asymptotic value of acceleration a = (a0g)1/2, where g is the Newtonian value. Scarpa has called this the weak gravitational regime, and he and colleagues Marconi and Gilmozzi have applied it extensively to globular clusters with 100% success.
What impressed me most was that the clear empirical basis of MOND has been thoroughly tested, and is now in daily use by professional astronomers at what is arguably the most sophisticated and advanced optical-infrared observatory in the world. In practice, there is no need to invoke Dark Matter. Quote from Riccardo: “Dark Matter is the craziest idea we’ve ever had in astronomy. It can appear when you need it, it can do what you like, be distributed in any way you like. It is the fairy tale of astronomy”.
Big Bang theory depends critically on three first principles: that the Universe is holistically and systematically expanding as per the Friedmann model; that General Relativity correctly describes gravitation; and that Milne’s Cosmological Principle, which declares that the Universe at some arbitrary “large scale” is isotropic and homogeneous, is true. The falsification of any one of these principles would lead to the catastrophic failure of the theory.
We saw at the conference that all three can be successfully challenged on the basis of empirical science. Retired electrical engineer Tom Andrews presented a novel approach to the validation (or rather, invalidation) of the expanding Universe model. It is well known that type 1a supernovae (SNe) show measurable anomalous dimming (with distance or remoteness in time) in a flat expanding Universe model. Andrews used observational data from two independent sets of measurements of brightest cluster galaxies (defined as the brightest galaxy in a cluster). It was expected, since the light from the SNe and the bright galaxies traverses the same space to get to us, that the latter should also be anomalously dimmed. They clearly are not. The orthodox explanation for SNe dimming—that it is the result of the progressive expansion of space—is thereby refuted. He puts a further nail in the coffin by citing Goldhaber’s study of SNe light curves, which did not reveal the second predicted light-broadening effect due to time dilation. Says Andrews:
“The Hubble redshift of Fourier harmonic frequencies [for SNe] is shown to broaden the light curve at the observer by (1 + z). Since this broadening spreads the total luminosity over a longer time period, the apparent luminosity at the observer is decreased by the same factor. This accounts quantitatively for the dimming of SNe. On the other hand, no anomalous dimming occurs for galaxies since the luminosity remains constant over time periods much longer than the light travel time to the observer. This effect is consistent with the non-expanding Universe model. The expanding model is logically falsified.”
Professor Mike Disney of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University calls a spade a spade. He has created an interesting benchmark for the evaluation of scientific models—he compares the number of free parameters in a theory with the number of independent measurements, and sets an arbitrary minimum of +3 for the excess of measurements over free parameters to indicate that the theory is empirically viable. He ran through the exercise for the Big Bang model, and arrived at a somewhat optimistic figure of –3 (17 free parameters against 14 measured).
He therefore argued that the there is little statistical significance in the good fits claimed by Big Bang cosmologists since the surfeit of free parameters can easily mould new data to fit a desired conclusion. Quote: “The study of some 60 cultures, going back 12,000 years, shows that, like it or not, we will always have a cosmology, and there have always been more free parameters than independent measurements. The best model is a compromise between parsimony (Occam’s razor) and goodness-of-fit.”
Disney has a case there, and it is amply illustrated when it comes to Big Bang Nucleosynthesis, which depends initially on a baryon/photon ratio set arbitrarily at 6, and the abundances of chemical elements. Dr Tom van Flandern is another straight talking, no frills man of science. He opened his abstract with the words “The Big Bang has never achieved a true prediction success where the theory was placed at risk of falsification before the results were known.”
Ten years ago, Tom’s web site listed the Top Ten Problems with the Big Bang, and today he has limited it to the Top Fifty. He pointed out the following contradictions in predicted light element abundances: Observed deuterium abundances don’t tie up with observed abundances of 4He and 7Li, and attempts to explain this inconsistency have failed. The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen near the centre of the Milky Way is 5 orders of magnitude higher than the Standard Model predicts, and measuring either for quasars produces deviation from predictions. Also problematic for BBN are barium and beryllium, produced assumedly as secondary products of supernovae by the process of spallation.
However, observations of metal-poor stars show greater abundance of Be than possible by spallation. Van Flandern: “It should be evident to objective minds that nothing about the Universe interpreted with the Big Bang theory is necessarily right, not even the most basic idea in it that the Universe is expanding.”
Problems in describing the geometry of the Universe were dealt with by several speakers, and we must here of course drill down a bit to where the notion came from (in the context of Big Bang theory). The theory originated in Father Georges Lemaitre’s extensions to Friedmann’s solution of the Einstein General Relativity (GR) field equations, which showed that the Universe described in GR could not be static as Einstein believed. From this starting point emerged some irksome dilemmas regarding the fundamental nature of space and the distribution of matter within it.
It was here more than anywhere that the rich diversity of opinion and approach within the Alternative Cosmology Group was demonstrated. Professor Yurij Baryshev of the Institute of Astronomy at St Petersburg State University quietly presented his argument against the Cosmological Principle: large-scale structure is not possible in the Friedmann model, yet observation shows it for as far as we can see. I had recently read Yurij’s book The Discovery of Cosmic Fractals, and knew that he had studied the geometric fractals of Yale’s famous Professor Benoit Mandelbrot, which in turn led to his extrapolation of a fractal (inhomogeneous, anisotropic) non-expanding large-scale universe.
Conference co-ordinator Professor Jose Almeida presented a well-argued case for an interesting and unusual worldview: a hyperspherical Universe of 4-D Euclidean space (called 4-Dimensional Optics or 4DO) rather than the standard non-Euclidean Minkowski space. Dr Franco Selleri of the Università di Bari in Italy provided an equally interesting alternative—the certainty that the Universe in which we live and breathe is a construction in simple 3-D Euclidean space precludes the possibility of the Big Bang model. He says: “No structure in three dimensional space, born from an explosion that occurred 10 to 20 billion years ago, could resemble the Universe we observe.”
The key to Selleri’s theory is absolute simultaneity, obtained by using a term e1 (the coefficient of x in the transformation of time) in the Lorentz transformations, so that e1 = 0. Setting e1 = 0 separates time and space, and a conception of reality is introduced in which no room is left for a fourth dimension. Both Big Bang and its progenitor General Relativity depend critically on 4-D Minkowski space, so the argument regressed even further to the viability of Relativity itself. And here is where the big guns come in!
World-renowned mathematical physicist Professor Huseyin Yilmaz, formerly of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, and his hands-on experimentalist colleague Professor Carrol Alley of the University of Maryland, introduced us to the Yilmaz cosmology. Altogether 4 papers were presented at CCC-1 on various aspects of Yilmaz theory, and a fifth, by Dr Hal Puthoff of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Austin, was brought to the conference but not presented.
It is no longer controversial to suggest that GR has flaws, although I still feel awkward saying it out loud! Professor Yilmaz focussed on the fact that GR excludes gravitational stress-energy as a source of curvature. Consequently, stress-energy is merely a coordinate artefact in GR, whereas in the Yilmaz modification it is a true tensor. Hal Puthoff described the GR term to me as a “pseudo-tensor, which can appear or disappear depending on how you treat mass.”
The crucial implication of this, in the words of Professor Alley, is that since “interactions are carried by the field stress energy, there are no interactive n-body solutions to the field equations of General Relativity.” In plain language, GR is a single-body description of gravity! The Yilmaz equations contain the correct terms, and they have been applied with success to various vexing problems, for example the precession of Mercury’s perihelion, lunar laser ranging measurements, the flying of atomic clocks in aircraft, the relativistic behaviour of clocks in the GPS, and the predicted Sagnac effect in the one-way speed of light on a rotating table. Anecdote from Professor Alley: at a lecture by Einstein in the 1920’s, Professor Sagnac was in the audience. He questioned Einstein on the gedanken experiment regarding contra-radiating light on a rotating plate. Einstein thought for a while and said, “That has got nothing to do with relativity”. Sagnac loudly replied, “In that case, Dr Einstein, relativity has got nothing to do with reality!”
The great observational “proof” of Big Bang theory is undoubtedly the grandly titled Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, stumbled upon by radio engineers Penzias and Wilson in 1965, hijacked by Princeton cosmologist Jim Peebles, and demurely described by UC’s COBE data analyser Dr George Smoot as “like looking at the fingerprint of God.” Well, it’s come back to haunt them! I was delighted that despite some difficulties Glenn Starkman of Case Western Reserve University was able to present his paper to the conference as I had been keenly following his work on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) data. Dr Starkman has discovered some unexpected (for Big Bangers) characteristics (he describes them as “bizarre”) in the data that have serious consequences for the Standard Model.
Far from having the smooth, Gaussian distribution predicted by Big Bang, the microwave picture has distinct anisotropies, and what’s more says Starkman, they are clearly aligned with local astrophysical structures, particularly the ecliptic of the Solar System. Once the dipole harmonic is stripped to remove the effect of the motion of the Solar System, the other harmonics, quadrupole, octupole, and so on reveal a distinct alignment with local objects, and show also a preferred direction towards the Virgo supercluster.
Conference chair, plasma physicist Eric Lerner concurred in his paper. He suggested that the microwave background is nothing more than a radio fog produced by plasma filaments, which has reached a natural isotropic thermal equilibrium of just under 3K. The radiation is simply starlight that has been absorbed and re-radiated, and echoes the anisotropies of the world around us. These findings correlate with the results of a number of other independent studies, including that of Larson and Wandelt at the University of Illinois, and also of former Cambridge enfant terrible and current Imperial College theoretical physics prodigy, Professor Joao Magueijo. Quote from Starkman: “This suggests that the reported microwave background fluctuations on large angular scales are not in fact cosmic, with important consequences.” Phew!
The final day saw us discussing viable alternative cosmologies, and here one inevitably leans towards personal preferences. My own bias is unashamedly towards scientists who adopt the classical empirical method, and there is no better example of this than Swedish plasma physics pioneer and Nobel laureate Hannes Alfven.
Consequently, I favoured the paper on Plasma Cosmology presented by Eric Lerner, and as a direct result of that inclination find it very difficult here to be brief! Lerner summarised the basic principles: Most of the Universe is plasma, so the effect of electromagnetic force on a cosmic scale is at least comparable to gravitation. Plasma cosmology assumes no origin in time for the Universe, and can therefore accommodate the conservation of energy/matter.
Since we see evidence of evolution all around us, we can assume evolution in the Universe, though not at the pace or on the scale of the Big Bang. Lastly, plasma cosmology tries to explain as much of the Universe as possible using known physics, and does not invoke assistance from supernatural elements. Plasmas are scale invariant, so we can safely infer large-scale plasma activity from what we see terrestrially. Gravity acts on filaments, which condense into “blobs” and disks form. As the body contracts, it gets rid of angular momentum which is conducted away by plasma. Lerner’s colleague Anthony Perratt of Los Alamos Laboratory modelled plasma interaction on a computer and has arrived at a compelling simulation of the morphogenesis of galaxies.
Since plasma cosmology has no time constraints, the development of large-scale structures—so problematic for Big Bang—is accommodated. Lerner admits that there’s still a lot of work to be done, but with the prospect of more research funding coming our way, he foresees the tidying up of the theory into a workable cosmological model.
The conference concluded with a stirring concert by a 3-piece baroque chamber music ensemble, and it gave me cause to reflect that it appeared that only in our appreciation of music did we find some measure of consensus. That the Big Bang theory will pass into history as an artefact of man’s obsession with dogma is a certainty; it will do so on its own merits, however, because it stands on feet of clay. For a viable replacement theory to emerge from the efforts of the Alternative Cosmology Group is at best a long-term objective, unless the group can soon find cohesive direction. But, it’s a great bunch of dedicated, talented people, and we are going to have a lot of fun getting there!