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Big Bang: Were we wrong about the cosmic microwave background?

In “’Echoes’ of the Big Bang misinterpreted?” (Discovery News, June 15, 2012),
Ray Villard reports that veteran radio astronomer Gerrit Verschuur, of the University of Memphis thinks that the cosmic microwave background may have been misinterpreted:

He proposes that at least some of the fine structure seen in the all-sky plot of the universe’s cosmic microwave background is really the imprint of our local interstellar neighborhood. It has nothing to do with how the universe looked 380,000 years after the Big Bang, but how nearby clouds of cold hydrogen looked a few hundred years ago.

Verschuur is quick to applaud the WMAP team for a “brilliant experiment” to attempt to resolve the structure of the primeval universe as encoded in ancient microwave radiation. But he suggests that the team failed to subtract all the foreground radio phenomena that may have contaminated the data.

Read, and make up your own mind.

It would certainly be news for the many theists in science who have used the Big Bang to anchor teachings about God. But if it turns out to be bad news, it is bad news in the real world.  At least it is not frustrating, science-stopping nonsense about multiverses.

See also: Standard Model of physics in trouble?

Not finding the God particle may be a bigger deal than we think

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7 Responses to Big Bang: Were we wrong about the cosmic microwave background?

  1. 1

    Or, perhaps this sudden explosion/expansion happened only approx 6000-10000 years ago, which is why there isn’t much difference in the temps at extreme distances.

    Perhaps the speed of light has not always been constant but was faster in the past as some physicists have recently claimed.

    That’s the problem when dealing with things that occurred prior to human history…we just don’t know.

  2. “It would certainly be news for the many theists in science who have used the Big Bang to anchor teachings about God. But if it turns out to be bad news, it is bad news in the real world.”

    Yes, this is what the creationists have been warning could happen all along. Science is ever changing, but God’s Word is not so to wed God’s Word to science can lead to problems. This may not turn out to be a problem in the end, but still it illustrates what could happen. Although the Big Bang explains some things about the universe surprisingly well, there is much that does not fit with the theory. And even interpreting the red shift as evidence of an expanding universe is only one of many explanations that could be chosen to explain that. Check out the growing list of scientists who are questioning the Big Bang at cosmologystatement.org.

    Creationists would not be surprised in the least because we do not believe in the Big Bang interpretation of the history of the cosmos.

  3. Excuse my ignorance but what exactly does this all mean?

  4. Blue_Savannah @ 1

    Or, perhaps this sudden explosion/expansion happened only approx 6000-10000 years ago, which is why there isn’t much difference in the temps at extreme distances.

    Perhaps the speed of light has not always been constant but was faster in the past as some physicists have recently claimed.

    That’s the problem when dealing with things that occurred prior to human history…we just don’t know.

    But we do know enough about what occurred prior to human history to know that the universe is far older than 100,000 years — from our observations of supernovas, for example.

    Cheers

  5. JLAfan2001 @ 3

    Excuse my ignorance but what exactly does this all mean?

    WMAP was a survey of the pattern of microwave radiation across the whole sky.

    It was predicted by Big bang theory that microwaves in deep space would have a very specific statistical pattern. The WMAP survey found the predicted pattern, so Big Bang theory was confirmed.

    However, astronomer Gerrit Verschuur has recently argued that the WMAP survey made some signficantly wrong measurements, and the correspondence to Big Bang theory may have been coincidental. The matter is still under scientific investigation.

    Cheers

  6. Would that be more of an issue for the big bang, as in didn’t it really happen, or more in terms of the age of the universe?

  7. The effect that Verschuur is talking about doesn’t call into doubt whether or not the Big Bang actually occurred. His results are saying that perhaps we are not as confident on the details as we think we are.

    There is zero doubt that the Bang occurred. What COBE/WMAP/Planck are all trying to measure is just how uniform the “explosion” was in all directions. Scientists all agree it was VERY uniform – which is to say, the matter created in the Bang was very equally distributed in each chunk of space created by the Bang. The cake batter was very smooth and not lumpy.

    But evreybody realizes that at some level of detail, if you zoom in with a bigger and bigger “microscope” on each blob of created space, there HAS to be SOME difference of the amount of matter in some parts of space compared to others. The blobs of space with slightly more mass became galaxies; the blobs with slightly less became the voids between galaxies.

    The COBE/WMAP/Planck spacecraft and their scientists (3 seperate missions, each with higher sensitivity than the last) thought they had nailed the “zoom level” required to start telling the difference between the slightly denser and slightly less dense patches of space in the early universe.

    Verschuur is saying that in some places in the sky where COBE/WMAP/Planck thought it had seen just a tiny bit more mass than average, instead they saw an optical illusion – the effects of hydrogen clouds rubbing against each other in our own galaxy instead of tiny bits of extra primordial mass way off in the early universe.

    He may be right. But it doesn’t detract one bit from the certainty that the Bang did occur, and that maybe we’ve just got to go to the next level of sensitivity to distinguish between “heavy” and “light” areas of early space. Or maybe that we are in a region of the Milky Way galaxy where there’s just too much hydrogen gas to ever get a sufficently sensitive view of what lies outside our galaxy, and we may never know.

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