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No. 34: Jul-Aug 1984

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Does string hold the universe together?

Cosmological speculation is getting more and more bizarre. Astronomers are now postulating a kind of cosmic 'string' that is very, very thin (10-30cm), enormously massive (1022 grams per centimeter), and very taut (1042 dynes tension). This string exists only in closed loops of infinite strands. Such string in loop form could have seeded galaxies and even black holes of solar mass. But these are not the major reasons why astronomers like the string hypothesis. It turns out that this bizarre string can tie the universe together gravitationally; that is, provide the long-sought 'missing mass.'

The so-called 'missing-mass problem' is two-fold:

  • Astronomers cannot see, with eye and instrument, enough mass to keep the universe from expanding indefinitely. If the kinetic energy of cosmic expansion is to be balanced by gravitational potential energy (an apparent philosophical imperative), we have so far identified only 15% of the required mass. (2) On a smaller scale, galaxies in large galactic clusters are moving too fast. They should have flown apart long ago, but some unseen 'stuff' holds them together. Is it cosmic string?

    (Waldrop, M. Mitchell; "New Light on Dark Matter? Science, 224:971, 1984.)

    Comment. Since cosmic string weighs about 2 x 1015 tons per inch, the whole business is beginning to sound a bit silly. Actually, all action-at-a-distance forces, which we readily accept as real, are only artificial constructs of the human mind. Gluons, colored 'particles,' top quarks, cosmic string; where will it all end?

    From Science Frontiers #34, JUL-AUG 1984. 1984-2000 William R. Corliss

    Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


    • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

    • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
    • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

    • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987