Home » Cosmology, News » Rob Sheldon’s take on the new Planck data: The investigators really, really wanted to find something that the Americans missed.

Rob Sheldon’s take on the new Planck data: The investigators really, really wanted to find something that the Americans missed.

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stone age fish hook

Further to “New analysis: Planck data more in line with Standard Model than originally thought?”, which prompted the question: Why is it always supposed to be such a big surprise that the Standard Model works? Or are we missing something?, physicist Rob Sheldon kindly replies,

The discussion is about the ~3-degree blackbody radiation left over from the Big Bang. As the universe exploded, it radiated light everywhere, and as the universe expanded, both the matter and the light expanded. This cooled the matter off, and it stopped radiating–since radiation goes as the fourth power of temperature, a slight bit of cooling can completely shut off the light. Then the light cooled–yeah, I know–because the universe stretched, and when spacetime stretches, neither the frequency nor the speed of light changed, so it was the wavelength that stretched. So what initially started out as X-ray light is now a cool 2.75K, 160GHz or 1.06 millimeter wave — just a tad shorter wavelength than your microwave oven.

This radiation was predicted by American physicists, Ralph Alpher and George Gamow, in the late 1940′s and also promoted by the Princeton theorist, Robert Dicke. It was accidently discovered by two AT&T physicists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964, who got the Nobel prize for it. Then NASA launched a satellite mission in the 1980′s, COBE, that found a slight statistical wiggle in the blackbody radiation, but 100 to 1000 times smaller than the signal! This led to a famous cover of Scientific American where the lead investigator, a Harvard physicist named George Smoot (not the younger brother whose height was used to measure the length of the Charles River bridge), proclaimed he had seen “The Face of God”, (If only), which he said was important because it provided the “seed” for matter to condense into galaxies in the billion years after the Big Bang. The COBE mission was truncated early after 9 months or so because they ran out of liquid helium to cool the detectors having forgotten about the Van Allen radiation belts, so NASA followed this mission up with another one called WMAP which did not need liquid helium and ran for 10 years or so getting a much more honest picture of the blackbody radiation than Smoots. (If you compare them, you will see that WMAP looks nothing like COBE, even if you blur WMAP.)

Finally, the Europeans scraped their pennies together and launched the Planck mission in 2009. George Gamow got a Nobel, as did George Smoot just recently for this work. So it is no wonder that the Europeans wanted a Planck mission–its a guaranteed Nobel generator. In typical European fashion, it was intended to measure the same quantities that NASA had measured, but with even greater precision and accuracy. If you take to the trouble to look at the Wikipedia page, here’s the comparison.

The idea is an old one–relying on serendipity to justify the $bn for the mission. So the investigators really, really wanted to find something that the Americans missed. Well if you know what you want from an experiment, there is usually a way to find it. And when you do find it, never, never stop to double-check. Instead, like all medical researchers, you stop looking at more data and immediately publish. Which is what they did.

Unfortunately this being the modern age and all, the data sets are publically available for other people to analyze. When some Princeton physicists reanalyzed the data, they found a very fishy detector. Eliminating the fishy detector from the data set, also eliminated all the new discoveries–e.g. reduplicating the WMAP data. The Europeans are saying (a) we knew about the fishy detector all along; (b) the new effect is still there, we just need to do a more elaborate analysis.

I’m sure there are more fish stories to come.

Fishing season is: OPEN

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8 Responses to Rob Sheldon’s take on the new Planck data: The investigators really, really wanted to find something that the Americans missed.

  1. Hi News,
    Can you please clarify to what article Dr. Rob was responding to ? Your earlier post was about the incomplete removal of 4k line error. It is not caused by ‘fishy’ detector but by electromagnetic interference in the Joul Thomson cooler drive electronics and the electronics of the read out!

  2. For readers- I just want to clarify that Dr.Rob is referring to CMBR when talking about black body radiation. It’s true that once we account for the Joul Thomson cooler drive electronics and the electronics of the read out error, the Hubble constant reverts to older WMAP data and the matter density also reverts to the standard, but I think the more we study our universe, the better we will understand it. It doesn’t matter who funds and launches the research. Rivalry is good and shouldn’t be dismissed as jealous behavior. All we need is more data, we can easily sort what if the data is wrong or right and take in the right data to advance our understanding of the universe.

  3. and when spacetime stretches

    Where is the science in that statement? Has anybody ever observed spacetime stretching?

  4. selvaRajan–yup, that fishy detector is the one with the 4K line removal algorithm that made the detector behave like the adjacent one. And when you are doing precision cosmology, even the fourth decimal place is important. Let’s hope they get it right this time.

    Mapou–not to belabor a point, but the 2.72K blackbody radiation *is* proof that spacetime stretches, as are the red-shifts of quasars, the bending of starlight by our sun, the precession of Mercury’s orbit, the rotation of niobium spheres in the Gravity Probe B experiment, the acoustic peaks in the correlation function of the CMBR, and a few other observations.

  5. Robert Sheldon,

    You don’t get it. Spacetime is not something physical that can affect or be affected by matter. It’s an abstract math construct, i.e., it does not exist. Besides, spacetime is unchanging by definition. Nothing can change in it, nothing moves. Here’s how Dr. Robert Geroch of the University of Chicago puts it:

    “There is no dynamics within space-time itself: nothing ever moves therein; nothing happens; nothing changes. [...] In particular, one does not think of particles as “moving through” space-time, or as “following along” their world-lines. Rather, particles are just “in” space-time, once and for all, and the world-line represents, all at once the complete life history of the particle.”
    Source: Relativity from A to B

    Dr. Geroch is not the only scientist who understands that spacetime is abstract and unchanging. There are many others but they don’t make a lot of noise because nobody wants to be seen as being against Einstein or general relativity theory. GR is sacred doctrine in the physics community and criticising it is like criticising the theory of evolution in biology. Karl Popper once compared Einstein to Parmenides (who with Zeno denied change/motion) and called spacetime, “Einstein’s block universe in which nothing happens” source; Conjectures and Refutations.

    I am not making any of this stuff up. Look it up.

  6. The biggest problem with the Big Bang hypothesis – and physics in general – is that it does not explain motion. Why do things move?

  7. In my considered opinion, the ID/creationist movement is making a mistake by getting behind the Big Bang hypothesis just because it implies a creation event. Consider that materialists can always say that the universe goes from Big Bang to Big Crunch to more Big Bangs and Crunches, ad eternam.

    There is a much more solid proof of creation to be found in physics, in my opinion. Unfortunately, everything seems to be conspiring against it surfacing to the light. But surface it will. There is no stopping it. Causality dictates that motion cannot exist unless there is a wall-to-wall, uniform, energetic substrate or lattice in which everything is moving. This lattice is necessarily four-dimensional and must precede the creation of normal matter. It cannot arrive in a Big Bang since there can be no bang/motion without it.

    As a Christian, (and I say this at the risk of being branded a crackpot or a lunatic, which I am used to and don’t deny :-) ) I believe this lattice is what the ancient scriptures are referring to with the claim that Yahweh stretched out the heavens like a curtain or the fabric of a tent. I also believe that this is what the books of Revelation and Ezekiel metaphorically call a “huge expanse”, or a “sea of glass, like crystal”.

    Note that I am not trying to convert anybody here. Take it or leave it.

  8. Of somewhat related interest:

    Animated Apologetics: CS Lewis on Miracles, Science, and the Laws of Nature
    http://www.thepoachedegg.net/t.....ature.html

    The Laws of Nature (Have Never Caused Anything) by C.S. Lewis – doodle video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_20yiBQAIlk

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