Five years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astronomers for their discovery, in the late 1990s, that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.
Their conclusions were based on analysis of Type Ia supernovae — the spectacular thermonuclear explosion of dying stars — picked up by the Hubble space telescope and large ground-based telescopes. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by a mysterious substance named ‘dark energy’ that drives this accelerating expansion.
Now, a team of scientists led by Professor Subir Sarkar of Oxford University’s Department of Physics has cast doubt on this standard cosmological concept. Making use of a vastly increased data set — a catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae, more than ten times the original sample size — the researchers have found that the evidence for acceleration may be flimsier than previously thought, with the data being consistent with a constant rate of expansion. Paper. (public access) – J. T. Nielsen, A. Guffanti, S. Sarkar. Marginal evidence for cosmic acceleration from Type Ia supernovae. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 35596 DOI: 10.1038/srep35596More.
From physicist Rob Sheldon, our physics colour commentator:
Finally, a sensible voice in the clamor.
Five years ago, a Nobel prize was awarded for the discovery of “dark energy” using Type Ia supernovae. Prof. Sarkar of Cambridge U, says that the database has now expanded tenfold to 740 events, and the significance dropped from 5 to 3 sigma, which is considered inconclusive in most fields of astronomy. Likewise “supporting observations” are all theory-laden, meaning that they have to assume the result they are supposedly confirming.
One more proof that physics is not immune from the same cultural forces that derailed biology or psychology.
‘So it is quite possible that we are being misled and that the apparent manifestation of dark energy is a consequence of analysing the data in an oversimplified theoretical model … a [more sophisticated model] may well be able to account for all observations without requiring dark energy. Indeed, vacuum [dark] energy is something of which we have absolutely no understanding in fundamental theory.’
One gets the sense that Prof Sarkar is trying not to step on toes as he explains why the Nobel should never have been awarded.
See also: Rob Sheldon: How do dark energy and dark matter relate to ID?
Rob Sheldon: Did Viking discover life on Mars forty years ago?
Follow UD News at Twitter!
The conventional view: