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No. 119: Sep-Oct 1998

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The End Of The Old-Model Universe

That cosmology is in flux is apparent in the following sentence found in Nature:

" 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."

Does this mean that the Big Bang, the mainstay of the astronomy we were taught in school, is now being cast aside? After all, the Big Bang does model fairly well three important observations:

  1. The apparent expansion of the universe;
  2. The 3K microwave background; and
  3. The abundances of the light nuclei.

But try as they may, cosmologists have not been able to coax the Big Bang model to explain the large-scale lumpiness and structure of the galaxies and galaxy clusters. One problem with the Big Bang is that it has too many free parameters -- too much theoretical slack. Many cosmologists are now looking for a better model. This better model, to use the words of P. Coles, should be more "exciting" and "stranger," something "perhaps not even based on General Relativity."

(Coles, Peter; "The End of the Old Model Universe," Nature, 393:741, 1998.)

Questions. Isn't cosmology already already "strange" enough? Since when do theories have to be "exciting"? If a vacuum is defined as "a volume devoid of mass," how can it contain energy when E = mc2 ?

From Science Frontiers #119, SEP-OCT 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss