poly: Cosmological revolutions in sight

From: Robin Hanson <hanson@econ.berkeley.edu>
Date: Thu Jul 16 1998 - 10:33:39 PDT

>From SCIENCE-WEEK July 17, 1998:

Cosmologists are apparently expecting the near-future necessity
for profound conceptual alterations in their field. Peter Coles
(University of London, UK) presents a short review of the current
situation and makes the following points: 1) Observations only
recently made possible by improvements in astronomical
instrumentation have put theoretical models of the Universe under
intense pressure. The standard ideas of the 1980s about the shape
and history of the Universe have now been abandoned -- and
cosmologists are now taking seriously the possibility that the
Universe is pervaded by some sort of "vacuum energy" whose origin
is not at all understood. 2) The weakness of the Big Bang model
is that the numerical values of certain essential parameters in
the model (the Hubble constant, the density parameter, and, in
some versions, the cosmological constant) are not predicted by
theory, and thus the parameters must be inferred from
observations. 3) The Big Bang model does not deserve to be called
a "theory" unless and until it can explain how nonuniformities of
galaxies and clusters of galaxies came into being and evolved. 4)
The Cold Dark Matter model of structure formation, first proposed
in the 1980s, is in serious difficulty because the consequent
significant gravitational break on expansion is not evident, and
in fact expansion may be accelerating. Current observations
coupled with current dynamical arguments all suggest a global
density of matter in the Universe less than the value required to
make the Universe recollapse. 5) The existence of a cosmological
constant (or vacuum energy) of the required size necessary to
make the basic cosmological models work is not at all explained
by current theories of the fundamental interactions of matter. 6)
There is every reason to be confident that the important issues
will soon be resolved, because a data explosion is about to
engulf cosmology, a new generation of galaxy surveys. The Sloan
Digital Sky Survey, for example, will encompass more than a
million galaxies. The cosmological community is bracing itself
for the arrival of these enormous new data sets and the new
insights they will surely bring. 7) It is possible that none of
the available models will fit all the new data. Coles concludes:
"For many of us, that is the most exciting possibility of all, as
we would have to move to stranger theories, perhaps not even
based on General Relativity."
QY: Peter Coles <p.coles@qmw.ac.uk>
(Nature 25 Jun 98 393:741) (Science-Week 17 Jul 98)

Robin Hanson
hanson@econ.berkeley.edu http://hanson.berkeley.edu/
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627
Received on Thu Jul 16 17:41:25 1998

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