Dark Energy and Modern Science

Most people think the scientific endeavour is truly objective; scientists draw their conclusions from all the facts and are never swayed by fashion. Sorry, but that is not true, as I found out from my PhD work. I must post about that sometime, but the shortened version is that I entered a controversy, my results unambiguously supported one side, but the other side prevailed for two reasons. Some “big names” chose that side, and the review that settled the issue conveniently left out all reference to about sixty different sorts of observations (including mine) that falsified their position. Even worse, some of the younger scientists who were on the wrong side simply abandoned the field and tried to conveniently forget their work. But before I bore people with my own history, I thought it would be worth noting another issue, dark energy. Dark energy is supposed to make up about 70% of the Universe so it must be important, right?

Nobody knows, or can even speculate with some valid reason, what dark energy is, and there is one reason only for believing it even exists, and that is it is believed that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. We are reasonably certain the Universe is expanding. Originally this was discovered by Hubble, who noticed that the spectra of distant galaxies have a red shift in their frequencies and the further away they are, the bigger the red shift. This means that the whole universe must be expanding.

Let me digress and try to explain the Doppler shift. If you think of someone beating a drum regularly, then the number of beats per unit time is the frequency. Now, suppose the drum is on the back of a truck. If you hear a beat, and expect the next one at, say, 1 second later, if the truck starts to move away, the beat will come slightly later because the sound has had further to go. If the truck goes away at a regular speed, the beats will be delayed from each other by the same interval, the frequency is less, and that is called a red shift in the frequency. Now, the sound intensity will also become quieter with distance as the sound spreads out. Thus you can determine how far away the drum is and how fast it is moving away. The same applies to light, and if the universe is expanding regularly, then the red shift should also give you the distance. Similarly, provided you know the source intensity, the measured light intensity should give you the distance.

That requires us to measure light from stars that produce a known light output, which are called standard candles. Fortunately, there is a type of very bright standard candle, or so they say, and that is the type 1A supernova. It was observed in the 1990s that the very distant supernovae were dimmer than they should be according to the red shift, which means they are further away than they should be, which means the expansion must be accelerating. To accelerate there must be some net force pushing everything apart. That something is called dark energy, and it is supposed to make up about two thirds of the Universe. The discoverers of this phenomenon won a Nobel prize, and that, of course, in many people’s eyes means it must be true.

The type 1A supernova is considered to arise when a white dwarf star starts to strip gas from a neighbouring star. The dwarf gradually increases in mass, and because its nuclear cycle has already burnt helium into carbon and oxygen, where because the mass of the dwarf is too low, the reactions stop. As the dwarf consumes its neighbour, eventually the mass becomes great enough to start the burning of carbon and oxygen; this is uncontrollable and the whole thing explodes. The important point here is that because the explosion point is reached because of the gradual addition of fresh mass, it will occur at the same point for all such situations, so you get a standard output, or so it is assumed.

My interest in this came when I went to hear a talk on the topic, and I asked the speaker a question relating to the metallicity of the companion star. (Metallicity is the fraction of elements heavier than helium, which in turn means the amount of the star made up of material that has already gone through supernovae.) What I considered was that if you think of the supernova as a bubble of extremely energetic material, what we actually see is the light from the outer surface nearest to us, and most of that surface will be the material of the companion. Since the light we see is the result of the heat and inner light promoting electrons to higher energy levels, the light should be dependent on the composition of the outer surface. To support that proposition, Lyman et al. (arXiv: 1602.08098v1 [astro-ph.HE] 2016) have shown that calcium-rich supernovae are dimmer than iron-rich ones. Thus the 1A supernova may not be such a standard candle, and the earlier it was, the lower the metallicity will be, and that metallicity will favour lighter atoms, which do not have as many energy levels from which to radiate so they will be less efficient at converting energy to light.

Accordingly, my question was, “Given that low metallicity leads to dimmer 1a supernovae, and given that the most distant stars are the youngest and hence will have the lowest metallicity, could not that be the reason the distant ones are dimmer?” The response was a crusty, “That was taken into account.” Implied: go away and learn the standard stuff. My problem with that was, how could they take into account something that was not discovered for another twenty years or so? Herein lies one of my gripes about modern science: the big names who are pledged to a position will strongly discourage anyone questioning that position if the question is a good one. Weak questions are highly desired, as the name can satisfactorily deal with it and make himself feel better.

So, besides this issue of metallicity, how strong is the evidence for this dark energy. Maybe not as strong as everyone seems to say. In a recent paper (Nielsen et al. arXiv:1506.01354v2) analysed data for a much larger number of supernovae and came to a somewhat surprising conclusion: so far, you cannot actually tell whether expansion is accelerating or not. One interesting point in this analysis is that we do not simply relate the measured magnitude to distance. In addition there are corrections for light curve shape and for colour, and each has an empirical constant attached to it, and the “constant” is assumed to be constant. There must also be corrections for intervening dust, and again it is a sheer assumption that the dust will be the same in the early universe as now, despite space being far more compact.

If we now analyse all the observed data carefully (the initial claims actually chose a rather select few) we find that any acceptable acceleration consistent with the data does not deviate significantly from no acceleration out to red shift 1, and that the experimental errors are such that to this point we cannot distinguish between the options.

Try this. Cabbolet (Astrophys. Space Sci. DOI 10.1007/s10509-014-1791-4) argues that from the Eöt-Wash experiment that if there is repulsive gravity (needed to accelerate the expansion), then quantum electrodynamics is falsified in its current formulation! Quantum electrodynamics is regarded as one of the most accurate theory ever produced. We can, of course, reject repulsive gravity, but that also rejects dark energy. So, if that argument is correct, then at least one of the two has to go, and maybe dark energy is the one more prone to go.

Another problem is that it is assumed that type 1a supernovae are standard because they all form by the gradual accretion of extra matter from a companion. But Olling et al. (Nature, 521: 332 – 335, 2015) argue that they have found three supernovae where the evidence is that the explosion occurred by one dwarf simply swallowing another, and now there is no standard mass, so the energy could be almost anyhting, depending on the mass of the companion.

Milne (ApJ 803 20. doi:10.1088/0004-637X/803/1/20) has shown there are two classes of 1a supernovae, and for one of those there is a significant underestimation of the optical luminosity of the NUV-blue SNe Ia, in particular, for the high-redshift cosmological sample. Not accounting for this effect should thus produce a distance bias that increases with redshift and could significantly bias measurements of cosmological parameters.

So why am I going on like this? I apologize to some for the details, but I think this shows a problem in that the scientific community is not always as objective as they should be. It appears to be, they do not wish to rock the boat holding the big names. All evidence should be subject to examination, and instead what we find is that only too much is “referred to the experts”. Experts are as capable of being wrong as anyone else, when there is something they did not know when they made their decision.


14 thoughts on “Dark Energy and Modern Science

  1. I said “like” because this is wise, well written and informative. This said, I tend to believe the Dark Energy thing. Why? Lots of prestigious people believe it, and there is supposedly several independent ways to get at the DE.

    Plus, my own theory predicts a weakening of gravity at a distance, compatible with Dark Energy as it seems to be.

    This said, indeed, they eliminated a large proportion of supernovae they did not like. And I did not independently verify anything, such as the independent proofs, etc.

    A caveat: the COSMOLOGICAL redshift is NOT a Doppler Shift. It is often spoken of, as if it were one, indeed. But it’s not.. The galaxies appear to recess at such and such a speed. But it’s just appearance. In truth, in absolute space, they recess even faster than that.

    • Patrice, I did not say there was no dark energy. My point is, the evidence for it is nowhere nearly as strong as the advocates seem to believe. What we need first is better data at longer red shifts, or better some other theoretical prediction of what the dark energy does. If you can predict more than one effect independent of any of the others, it gets much more convincing.

      If you are going to argue that the galaxies are receding faster than the red shift indicates, then up to a point we don’t need dark energy. My view is calling it a Doppler shift is OK at a primary level. It is true that we don’t actually know what causes that red shift, but from light intensities, galaxies receding is the most reasonable explanation that I can see, but there are other possibilities.

      • In the standard theory, the redshift is caused by the stretching of the wave packet of a photon, as it travels a stretching universe.

        I did understand what you said about Dark Energy, and I know it all too well: we don’t know enough about DE to know whether my own theory predicts it, or not (it predicts a weakening of gravitation, as I said).

        I said galaxies were receding faster, because, in absolute (!) time they are actually much further than they look. Yes, I know, absolute time is not exactly a notion thought possible in these all too relative times…

    • This is a serious problem. They are assumed to be constant because there is no evidence of what they are. In my opinion, more correct would be to find out what they were before you start calculating.

  2. Pingback: Relativity, Absolute Frame, Simultaneity, Action At A Distance | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts

  3. Patrice, I believe that the effect of something moving away, or the space between expanding, is effectively the same by observation – the distance between them increases, and the same thing happens to the frequency of light – it stretches. I shall have a look at your link.

    • I don’t know enough to be sure, but my gut feel is it is unlikely. For the energy to give the enhanced gravitational field, it will itself be enhanced at the centre, where the gravitational field is strongest, but if it did that, the outer parts of the galaxy would still behave following the standard laws of motion in a central field, and they would orbit the centre much more slowly than those in the interior. For some reason, the outer stars give a spectral shift consistent with uniform velocity of outer and inner stars. As far as I can make out, what you are suggesting would merely alter the apparent mass of the black hole at the centre. The dark matter explanation has the dark matter (as I understand it) as a sort of toroid around the galaxy. The problem is not the mass, but its distribution, and the awkward part has to be where the nominal gravitational field is weaker. (The alternative is the inverse square nature of the field is wrong.)

  4. If you look closely, I am integrating the time dilation ratios all the way to R, when calculating for bigger ratios the orbital velocities behave in a similar way than observed. The extra spherical layers outside the radius of the galaxy add the extra equivalent mass to keep the velocity curve more or less flat.

    • Since everyone expects essentially Newtonian dynamics at the edges of the galaxy, I would expect negligible time dilation except close to a star, but even then, e.g. Mercury, the effect is small. I would think you would have to show why there was an unusual energy density out there, and I suspect you would then be in the same position as the dark matter adherents.

      • The energy density on the outer layers is very small indeed; what makes it add up the required equivalent mass is the monumental surface area of those outer spherical layers.

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