Scientists don’t normally make much money.
But Nobel Prize winners Perlmutter, Riess and Schmidt don’t need worry about being short of cash anymore. They can forget eating instant noodles and cobbling together loose change to keep the electricity meter running. Winning the highest accolade in science is more than luck. It wasn’t their lucky stars that bagged them the $1.5 million Prize this week; but their tenacity in studying celestial bodies.
Their discovery – that the Universe is expanding at an ever increasing speed – is simply profound. Although they first discovered it back in 1998, it still causes confusion amongst bespeckled star-gazers and flies in the face of the accepted notion that everything around us is simply the result of a Big Explosion.
No one has yet come up with a wholly convincing reason why stars are speeding away from each other at an increasing rate of knots. I have a little theory that’s been on my mind for a while – and I’d like to share it. Watch out, things are going to get rather theoretical…
Are we in the Dark?
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m straying from my field of expertise; physics A-levels were over a decade ago and astrophysics didn’t feature highly at medical school. However, I feel reasonably well acquainted with science-y goings-on (for a medic and health science lecturer that is) – so here goes:
No one likes being in the dark – least of all scientists. However I have a problem with the modern explanations for heavenly mysteries: They seem to rely on ‘dark’ a lot. Dark matter – the presumed vast quantities of invisible mass lurking out there somewhere – is the accepted theory for a discrepancy between gravitational laws and astronomer’s observations. Similarly, dark energy – an unknown, unmeasured and unseen force – is apparently the thing that is spreading the Universe apart at ever increasing speeds.
Professor Hawking would have me for breakfast in a debate about this, but as far as I can see there isn’t a great deal of evidence to support these ideas and it all sounds a bit, well, mythical.
A Lighter Alternative
Rather than Dark Energy pushing stars and galaxies apart – like some ethereal being blowing into the balloon of the Cosmos – my (wholly speculative) idea relies on the speed of light. I’ve looked for this theory elsewhere, but haven’t found it written down as a reason for the accelerating expanding universe (perhaps there’s a reason for that?)
What if the speed of light at the far reaches of the Universe was different to our own – and this difference is causing the illusion of an accelerating expanding universe?
To suggest that the speed of light is not constant, tramples on Einstein’s grave and risks a paramilitary uprising in the Large Hadron Collider canteen. That said, there is some evidence to suggest the sacred ‘c’ (in e = mc2) – the speed of light in a vacuum – may not be as steadfastly unchanging as we believe. Even before Italians starting saying that their Neutrinos were going faster than the speed of light, Australians last year reported that they had evidence that the speed of light may be different in different parts of the Universe.
Just supposing that the speed of light were faster in our district of the Milky Way than elsewhere – couldn’t that explain why far galaxies appear to be speeding away. Like seeing the optical illusion of a straw bend as it enters a glass of water – could the appearance of an accelerating universe just be an optical illusion?
“Is there an astrophysicist in the House?”
I know on occasion, a physicist passes by my humble blog – and I would love to be set straight by a more proficient cosmologist than I!
Failing that, would someone kindly go on and prove my theory – and could I please have a share in the Nobel Prize when you win…?
Thanks for reading – comments and feedback are warmly welcomed!
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Riess, A., Filippenko, A., Challis, P., Clocchiatti, A., Diercks, A., Garnavich, P., Gilliland, R., Hogan, C., Jha, S., Kirshner, R., Leibundgut, B., Phillips, M., Reiss, D., Schmidt, B., Schommer, R., Smith, R., Spyromilio, J., Stubbs, C., Suntzeff, N., & Tonry, J. (1998). Observational Evidence from Supernovae for an Accelerating Universe and a Cosmological Constant The Astronomical Journal, 116 (3), 1009-1038 DOI: 10.1086/300499
J. K. Webb, J. A. King, M. T. Murphy, V. V. Flambaum, R. F. Carswell, & M. B. Bainbridge (2010). Evidence for spatial variation of the fine structure constant Physical Review Letters arXiv: 1008.3907v1