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No. 48: Nov-Dec 1986

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The Deflationary Universe

One of our major astronomical targets in Science Frontiers has been the cosmological redshift; that is, the assumption that an object's redshift is entirely a Doppler effect and, when coupled to the expanding universe concept, is proportional to distance. Well, we don't have any more contradicting data (of which there is plenty), but we do have:

(1) A new theory which shows how noncosmological redshifts can occur; and

(2) Laboratory demonstrations of "spectral noninvariance" that show how a non-Doppler component can be added to light's redshift.

The physicist behind this new research is E. Wolf, at the University of Rochester. His theoretical work was re-ported in the March 3l, 1986, issue of Physical Review Letters. There he showed how quasars and so-called "superluminary" astronomical sources might emit light with a spectrum that evolves as it travels through space. Scientists have always assumed that once light left its source its spectrum remained unchanged. But Wolf shows how spectral changes are "sort of coded into the light due to correlations in the source." Meanwhile, two of Wolf's colleagues have backed up his theory in the lab.

The consequences of Wolf's work would in effect shrink the universe, because objects would not be as far away as we now calculate from their redshifts. The size of the universe might contract "by a factor of 100 or more," says Wolf. If this much deflation is accepted by other scientists (It could be quite a fight!), then the age of the universe will also shrink, since it is based in part on our observations of the outer fringe of the universe and the speed of light.

(Amato, I.; "Spectral Variations on a Universal Theme,: Science News, 130:166, 1986.)

Comment. If we divide the currently accepted age of the universe, about 15 billion years, by 100, we are left with only 150 million years. But the radioactive clocks of the geologists register about 5 billion for the earth. There seems to be a problem somewhere!

Reference. Wolf's work impinges on the acrimonious "redshift controversy." For details, see our catalog: Stars, Galaxies, Cosmos. To order, vist: here.

From Science Frontiers #48, NOV-DEC 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss