Answer by Barry Setterfield
On the 20th of February 2014, I took the articles about this and discussed it with my astronomy class of high school seniors. We went over the articles together and noted the following sequence of reasoning:
1. What has been found is a polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) in a specific pattern. That is the hard, and only observational fact on which everything else in those articles is based.
2. This polarization is then claimed to result from “ripples in space-time” or “gravitational waves” caused by the expansion process.
3. In turn, this expansion process (inflation) is meant to come from the action of the cosmological constant which might be considered to act like gravity in reverse. There is some specialized new physics that allowed this conclusion to be drawn from the polarization data.
4. The conclusion is then that this polarization is “the result of ripples in space-time (gravitational waves) caused by the rapid expansion of the universe” that was caused by the action of the cosmological constant.
My comments to the class, after much discussion, went along these lines:
1. Polarization has indeed been found in the CMBR. The same type of polarization was found a year ago at a different angular scale. Because it was not at the right scale it was dismissed. That was attributed to gravitational lensing by massive objects since this can produce exactly the same sort of polarization even if no gravitational waves are present. So the action of gravitational waves is not unique in causing this polarization.
2. The use of the cosmological constant to cause expansion or inflation, and the gravity waves resulting from it, is highly suspect. Observational data all show that the size of the cosmological constant must lie between zero and one. In contrast, theory requires it to be 10^120 times stronger. This colossal mis-match between data and theory is a serious anomaly. The problem is not resolved by saying that it must be as large as that because of the “ripples in space-time” in the CMBR. Other evidence negates that. The polarization might have some other cause.
3. Another cause, apart from the gravitational lensing effect already noted, is the action of plasma filaments, whose incipient presence can be discerned in the CMBR. Plasma filaments themselves can cause lensing of light which might otherwise be attributed to gravitational effects. However, plasma filaments have Birkeland currents, and it has been demonstrated that these Birkeland currents in filaments also produce polarization of light and electromagnetic waves. So other options exist for explaining the polarization
4. Several commentators have noted that it might be wise to obtain some reproducible results before any conclusions are drawn.
5. Here are some of the easy accessible articles that have appeared on this subject.
ABC News in Science, BBC News
Big Bang Inflation Claims Continued
After looking over some comments by one of the authors of the Report that we have been discussing, I felt that another point had to be made, namely the “necessity” for “inflation” that the scientific mainstream needed in order to overcome some huge problems. That may be introduced as follows:
Another comment is relevant here. In relation to this discovery, Professor Jamie Bock (who was part of the team measuring the polarization) had this to say:
“This signal is an important confirmation of key aspects of the theory of cosmic inflation, about how the universe may have behaved in the first fractions of a second of its existence to create the universe we live in today. Inflation was first proposed in 1980 by Alan Guth, a theoretical physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to explain some unusual features of our universe, especially its surprising homogeneity. For all the clumping of stars and galaxies we see in the night sky, the universe seen through the CMB is extremely uniform—so much so that it has been difficult for physicists to believe that the various pieces of the sky were not all in immediate contact with one another at an earlier point in the universe’s development.”
(See more at http://www.caltech.edu/content/building-bicep2-conversation-jamie-bock).
This comment makes it plain why the whole idea of cosmic inflation was proposed in the first place. It came as a suggested answer to a set of problems that astronomers face. The observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR) indicate that there was a uniformity of temperature. Indeed, observation indicates that there is also a uniformity in structure, so that, no matter what direction we look in, the same basic picture presents itself. For this to be the case, it requires that all parts of the universe were in contact with each other until the time of the formation of the CMBR. This is currently impossible because the rate of transmission of such information is governed by the speed of light. Uniformity of temperature in a large cavity is only possible if all the temperature radiation in the cavity comes into equilibrium.
Because the universe is such a large place, and the speed of light is currently so low, it is impossible for the initial universe to have come to some equilibrium state under those conditions. Thus “inflation” was proposed by Alan Guth as the answer. In this approach the inflationary expansion was so rapid, and so early, that all the information was maintained intact without significant variation. What is claimed by those scientists who have been involved with measuring the polarization of the CMBR is that these measurements show that inflation actually occurred, and hence Alan Guth’s suggestion is correct. Our earlier comments call this claim into question. If inflation did not occur, then how did the universe temperature etc. remain so uniform?
The answer is that several groups of scientists have looked at other proposals, among them Albrecht, Magueijo, Barrow and Davies. The proposal was that the speed of light was much faster then now in the early universe, and as a result of this, all parts of the cosmos remained in contact with each other. Unfortunately, these cosmologists have adopted a minimalist position in which they have tried varying only the speed of light in their equations, and have not looked at other associated constant which would vary simultaneously.
The work done on the increase of the vacuum Zero Point Energy (ZPE) shows that a number of other constants will indeed be varying at the same time. Thus as the ZPE strength increased, Planck’s constant, h, also increased in direct proportion. However, as the ZPE strength increased, it can be shown that the speed of light, c, decreased in an inverse fashion. The result is the quantity hc is an absolute constant. It is rather like the number 12. It can be made up of 12×1 or 6×2 or 4×3 but the result is always the same. But these physicists were measuring the complete quantity, hc, and trying to find if the speed of light varied. They failed because they did not consider that h would vary inversely with c . One of the quantities being measured at great distances is the fine structure constant where a change in the speed of light was looked for. However, the quantity hc occurs in the formulation of the fine structure constant, so the outcome is that the fine structure constant as a complete entity will not show any change. Indeed, Lineweaver has looked at this constant and has not detected any substantial change.
However, the ZPE research provides a potentially viable answer to these problems since it has an initially extremely high speed of light and a very low value for h, because the strength of the ZPE was low as expansion began. This allowed all parts of the universe to maintain contact. Inflation seems to be a more complicated way by comparison, and one that has a number of weaknesses. Therefore, an approach with the ZPE and plasma physics seems the better way to overcome all the observational difficulties in a fairly simple manner.
Image: Cosmic Background Radiation/ NASA
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