Astronomers Announce Priorities: Dark Energy, Exoplanets, Cosmic Origins

By Joseph Calamia | August 16, 2010 3:16 pm

LSSTThere is a lot of space to explore and a limited amount of money to spend. So every ten years the National Research Council’s “Decadal Survey”  recommends which astronomy and astrophysics projects should get first dibs. Last week, the committee released their recommendations for 2012 through 2021. The projects that got the thumbs-up from astronomers would tackle big tasks, like hunting for dark energy and seeking out new exoplanets.

Though funding agencies (like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy), Congressional committees, and the scientific community often use the survey to select the observatories on which to focus attention and resources, some were skeptical about this report given the 2001 survey’s recommendations and results.

Although these reports have always been influential—policymakers like scientists to rank their needs—only two of the seven major projects that appeared on the wish list in the 2001 survey have been funded, leading astronomers to wonder if the exercise is as useful as they’d like it to be. Previous surveys have also been faulted for providing unrealistic cost estimates, as low as a fifth of what certain missions have ended up costing. As a result, there has been considerable pressure on the committee that authored [Friday’s] report to prioritize projects more effectively and estimate costs better. [Science Insider]

This time, the committee hoped to avoid these budget underestimates by evaluating the financial and technical risk of each project.

“I think at the time of the previous decadal survey, people didn’t appreciate the importance of taking a second look at the cost of things and not just taking the word of the people submitting the projects,” says astronomer Claire Max of the University of California in Santa Cruz, a member of the final survey committee. This time around, the panel hired an outside expert to help estimate the funding and technical risk of each project. [Nature News]

Nature News outlines the survey’s funding recommendations for a wide range of projects, but two observatories–one in space and one on the ground–seem most promising to the committee, fitting with the survey’s major three priorities.

The committee highlighted three main areas of science, none of which should be too surprising to those who follow the field: Cosmic Dawn, New Worlds and the Physics of the Universe. Or, how did all of this get here, are there planets like Earth nearby, and what makes up the universe? Projects that are well suited to answer these questions, as well as technologically feasible, were given high recommendations. [Discovery News]

In Space

The survey recommends the most funding for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a joint project between NASA and the Department of Energy, which has an estimated cost of $1.6 billion. After an expected launch in 2020, WFIRST will record light from distant supernova among other things, and hopefully provide insights into the universe’s expansion and dark energy. Committee members also believe the telescope may help in the hunt for exoplanets.

“WFIRST not only gets at all the dark energy [priorities], but it also has significant capability in exoplanet science and will do outstanding work in infrared survey science,” Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics told physicsworld.com. Turner, who served on the 23-member committee for the decadal survey, also notes that the survey did not reject the idea of a possible collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) to combine its planned Euclid dark-energy mission with WFIRST. [Physics World]

On the Ground

The survey also recommends support for the $463 million  Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (pictured above). When completed, the telescope will survey the entire sky every week with a three-billion pixel digital camera to help researchers understand dark matter, dark energy, supernovae, near-Earth asteroids, and Kuiper belt objects.

In placing the LSST atop its priority list, the report highlighted the telescope’s technical readiness and its “compelling science case and capacity to address so many of the science goals of this survey,” including exploring the fundamental physical makeup of the universe by probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy. [Scientific American]

The DISCOVER blog Cosmic Variance has more on all this:
The Next 10 Years of Astronomy explains what the Decadal Survey means to astronomers
The Next Decade of US Space Astronomy
The Next Decade of US Ground Based Astronomy

Image: LSST Corporation

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • Chris the Canadian

    The whole question of Dark Energy and Dark Matter disappoints me. It’s an almost given that these exist yet there is no proof of either. Science, at it’s most base and general, comes up with a hypothesis and tries to show, through experiments and the scientific method, whether the hypothesis is correct or incorrect. In astronomy and physics I am noticing that those in the field not all, but many, are taking something to be a truth and then trying to explain the anomalies away.

    This DOESN’T WORK!!! For example, the reason why Dark Matter and Dark energy are considered to exist is because without them, certain mathematical and physical ‘truths’ would not make sense. We are to take it on FAITH that these things exist. Sound familiar? It’s the same train of thought scientists have been fighting for centuries. So what’s my point? My point is maybe the mathematical or physics theories are incorrect on gravity, relativity, and quantum physics.

    Has anyone seriously taken a second to ask ‘What if Einstein’s or Newton’s theories are NOT Absolute Laws of Nature?’ Instead of questioning the science and the theory, scientists have come up with theories to explain the anomalies of the original theory. The laws of Centrifugal and Gravitational physics cannot explain why the Universe would destroy itself either by tearing itself apart or collapsing back into itself. The ‘math’ isn’t right. So, to make it all work scientists come up with a theoretical and yet unproven phenomina ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Dark Energy’. Not only must Dark Matter and Dark Energy exist, but there are vast amounts of the stuff all across the universe. It’s EVERYWHERE!!! You just can’t see it and no one has actually been able to prove it exists. So to those scientists who have theorized their existence, what happens in 100 years if we probe and search and theorize and come up with no evidence that the stuff really exists?

    At one time the church condemned those who said the earth was NOT the center of the universe or those who said the earth was round and not flat. I fear science is taking the same stance on things that they have yet to prove is true and have stopped looking at alternative explanations for why things are the way they are. I also think science talks in absolutes wayyyy too much. Not everything fits into a perfect category or compartment. The universe is vast, is not UNIFORM as some may have you think (Yes you Einstein), and the randomness of what goes on in it’s vastness will defy definition.

  • JAY FREEMAN

    Why is there something instead of nothing? The government can spend the entire national budget and they won’t be able to answer that question

  • beetea

    Chris the Canadian, That is the best ever response i have read in relation to what i call the zealots of cosmology theories of the universe. I agree with all you said, I know that there are galaxys out here that have quasars coming out of them with different red shifts, but will they investigate further, NO. These zealots have been taught by other professors of zealotry in universitys and they are taught to believe, not how to learn, Universitys instill a beleive system and if you discover something that questions that belief system, say good bye to your funding and research support. Science has invented nothin since Heinstein and plank and the likes. Over a hundred years trying to make reality fit the theorie, Science now is nothing more than a religion, with their saints Heinstien and Darwin. I have had to laugh many times at speeches and presentations i have seen, were they would quote relativity theory all the way through, when in reality they dont have a clue what it means. I agreee with all you say. Science is a joke, these peaople will be wasting billions searching for something that dont exist. You could not make it up, who else spends millions on something that dont exist? yes religion, Blessed be the scientist, coz he cannot think, he can only follow what he has been told to do and will comply, for the money. There are real scientists out there, I would suggest you are reading you point, Most real scientists dont get funding or get killed off. i could rant all day, but you get my point. Free science from the fooking control of these royal societys who dictate what is and what isnt. Reality is..

  • Nemesis

    @1 & 3

    I sense sock puppetry.
    Is nihlism the new science or something. What are you guys talking about? Is there a point? It sounds like you’re trying to advocate an alternative to science that hasn’t been invented yet.

    “Science has invented nothin since Heinstein and plank and the likes. Over a hundred years trying to make reality fit the theorie”

    I feel bad dignifying this with a reply. Your ideas will be better respected if you organize them within the confines of the language you attempt to speak. Improper spelling and usage won’t earn many kudos.

  • Eric the Canadian

    agreed 100 % with Chris, i called out the Dark matter / energy theory the first time i heard about it. but i also know that when they do find the explanation for the currently unexplained it will be appropriately named “dark matter, dark energy, dark space, dark void” or what ever will least likely make the spending of so much money on a fools errand look stupid.

    @Nemesis, instead of picking apart someones spelling and grammar, how about you make an intelligent response to what the person is saying?

  • Hegel

    Maybe they’re both right.

  • Alex the Physicist

    @beetea

    “they are taught to believe, not how to learn”
    Please attend a university physics class before you start your rant. As a physicist, I can first-handedly tell you that the teaching methods encourage, nay, DEMAND exploration and asking questions. But of course everyone loves a conspiracy theory as much as they do ranting mindlessly.

    Chris, Scientists do not talk in absolutes. In fact my friend was tutored by a grad student whose thesis was improving Newtonian mechanics. Many of these theories fail, because they can’t predict things accurately. That doesn’t mean that people don’t question the established theories, it means that any challenge has failed to improve them.

    Also your claim that without dark matter, “certain mathematical and physical ‘truths’ would not make sense. We are to take it on FAITH that these things exist.”
    …etc
    is completely false. In reality what you’re saying is that all the theories that predicted the precession of mercury, or the spin of the electron to 16 decimal places are wrong? Let’s see YOUR theory that’s accurate to 17 decimal places. But of course to one that hasn’t studied the theories, it’s easy to claim them as “hocus-pocus”. They are not, because if they were, Televisions, Microwaves, Fluorescent light bulbs, airplanes, GPS, Cellphones, lasers and literally everything else invented in the past 100 years WILL. NOT. WORK.

    Finally, the whole “need for faith” is nullified by the billions of inventions and observations every day that confirm the established theories.

    But of course it’s easy to ignore all of mankind’s inventions in order to bash government spending on areas you’re not familiar with.

  • Hooray for Science

    @chris:
    Yes, there are serious scientists considering the possibility of alternative theories of gravity. See MOND (MOdified Newtonian Dynamics), and with each new failed experiment to detect Dark Matter, they get more serious. However, so far none of these alternative theories are any better (most are substantially worse) at explaining the observed data than Dark Matter and Dark Energy. There are many (mostly) independent lines of evidence pointing to Dark Matter/Energy. See rotation curves, supernovae, bullet cluster, standard model of particle physics, etc.

    @jay
    That is not a scientific question, and therefore science cannot answer it, nor does it attempt to. Save your money.

    @beetea
    “I know that there are galaxys out here that have quasars coming out of them with different red shifts, but will they investigate further, NO.”

    Do you know what galaxies and quasars are? Redshifts are a very good proxy for distance (see Hubble’s Law) so if you saw a galaxy and many quasars at different redshifts on top of each other (which happens quite often) the natural conclusion is that they happen to be on the same line of sight, but are at very different distances. Of course, that’s the party line, and maybe that’s what you take issue with. The beauty of science is that you can propose a different theory and devise observations to prove at least one of them incorrect. So what’s your theory? I guarantee you that if you come up with a theory that better explains the data, or if you can observationally disprove this party-line theory, you’ll get funding.

    However, don’t mistake misinformed ideas as scientifically rigorous theories and if they don’t get funded, don’t think that it’s just the man keeping you down. Many very smart people have thought most of their lives about these things, and you’re very unlikely to improve on that with 5 minutes of thought.

    Scientists do not work for the money. Those that would have move to Wall street (and some have).

    I have to agree with Nemesis on the rest of this, as I’m having difficulty extracting much of a point from the rest of your rant, other than you seem to hate science for no clearly articulated reason.

    @Eric
    Dark matter/Energy may go the way of ether, it’s true. But right now, there are lots of unanswered questions, and answering them takes time and money. Scientists are simply putting forth their efforts on the most promising frontiers. At the moment, that’s Dark matter/energy, but that will likely change if these new experiments (LHC, WFIRST) come up with nothing or beetea comes up with a better theory.

    @Alex
    Well said.

  • Wizard

    There is more evidence to suggest that dark matter and dark energy DON’T exist than evidence that they DO exist. Indeed these two supposed entities are in conflict with one another. Dark matter supposedly adds more matter (and thus more gravity) to a galaxy to help explain (using our current understanding of gravity) the nature of how galaxies spin. Meanwhile dark energy supposedly is pushing the whole universe apart. It is very hard to imagine that both can be true. After all if dark matter is true, the extra gravity created within a galaxy would tend to pull more matter, including other galaxies, towards its self. In other words, the gravitational horizon of a galaxy would be much bigger if dark matter is true. And if this is true, then we increase the chances that the universe would succumb to a ‘big crunch’.

    Also, if dark energy is a force that is accelerating all galaxies away from one another, how it that galaxies crash into one another. If dark energy is true, all galaxies should be getting further and further apart as they accelerate radially outward. And yet galaxies collisions happen quite frequently (see the ‘bullet cluster’)

    I agree with Chris. Dark matter and Dark Energy are feeble attempts to rationalize our lack of understanding of the TRUE physics of cosmology. Scientists have done this before (remember ‘ether’ to explain light and the complex ‘physics’ invented to keep the earth the center of the universe).

    Dark matter was invented to help explain why it ‘appears’ that galaxies are accelerating apart from one another. The ‘appearance’ that galaxies are accelerating apart is based on the observation of red-shifted light emanating from ‘standard candle’ pulsars. The theory is that in order for the light coming from these pulsars to appear red-shifted, the galaxy containing the pulsar must be traveling away from us at high speed. For some reason, no one has given any other thought as to why the light might be red-shifted. The light coming from these pulsar has been traveling for and extremely long time (20,000+ years), so I think there is plenty of time and opportunity for the light to be slowed down by other factors. Or perhaps we simply don’t understand the physics of light correctly yet.

    Yes, we understand the physic of light well enough to explain simply things like how long it take from light travel from the sun to the Earth (approx 8 minutes), but can we assume the same physics applies for 20,000 years. Yes, it may be true that in all our experiments that the speed of light in a vacuum appears constant. But have we EVER measured light in a vacuum that is 20,000 light years long?!? No. My point is our limited ability to measure light may me leading us to a false conclusion that it is constant. What if it is ‘almost’ constant, such that for most practical cases it IS constant, but for light that is 20,000 years old, it is not. Possible I think, yes?

    Also, can you even imaging the force necessary to not just move, but constantly accelerate something as massive as a galaxy. A force that powerful is simply beyond comprehensible. And where would such a force come from? So in the two choices of: A) Some mysterious force of such a colossal magnitude that is beyond imagination, or B) we simply don’t understand the real physics, I have to choose B.

    Dark matter… There may be some effects due to dark matter, but again, I think it is more likely we don’t fully understand yet.

  • Zachary

    The presumption that something must be fully accurate to be of use is ridiculous. Lavoisier had some completely faulty ideas, yet his work’s importance cannot be overstated. I suggest you read up on Kuhn and Lakatos and the reason why science operates inside rigid paradigms. Also, you misunderstand why certain thinkers are respected, it is because of the value of the ideas that put forth. Their power comes from there ideas, their ideas do not carry weight because of the importance of the person behind them. You confuse received knowledge for evidential knowledge.

  • http://www.youtube.com/TheRationalizer TheRationalizer

    Newton’s laws of gravity are wrong, but they work very well :-)

  • MT-LA

    @Wizard
    “Also, can you even imaging the force necessary to not just move, but constantly accelerate something as massive as a galaxy.”
    Yeah…I can imagine that force. In fact, the force necessary could be extremely small. That’s how an ion drive or a solar sail works. A small, constant force will accelerate anything in space. Basic, and well established, physics. The scale of the acceleration will be proportional to the mass of the object you’re trying to move, but the acceleration will always be greater than zero regardless of the mass.

    I have a problem with the concepts of dark matter/energy as well, but the pair of canadians/wizard/beetea are making me feel like a crack pot by association. I agree 100% with Nemesis…this reeks of socks and puppets

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    @ Nemesis and MT-LA:

    I checked, and there’s no sock puppetry here — just a good deal of frustration.

    Cheers,
    Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • Chris the Canadian

    To All,

    Firstly I want to say that I am glad my post sparked such discussion. I would also like to add that I do not feel Universities, professors, scientists, and physicists as a whole are ‘zealots’ or brainwashed in any way. I respect the scientific community for all the work it has done to help humanity reach the levels of sophistication and knowledge we are at today. I was not trying to discount ALL science.

    My point regarding the specific theories behind the existence of Dark Matter and Dark Energy was put forth because the original theories Einstein had written were inconsistant with the actual observations made by scientists and physicists afterwards. I was not DISSING Einstein or Newton, but was merely questioning the assumption that their theories are absolute and have become Natures ‘Law’.

    I do not pretend to be a physicist, but I am a pragmatist. The base of scientific method is in order for something to be real, it must be observed and PROVEN. Einsteins thoughts on the Universe being the same from one end to the other is being proven to be incorrect. That doesn’t discount Einsteins genius or his importance to science and physics, but it shows that not everything we take as a truth is necessarily so. Especially when it comes to the cosmos.

    So when the article talks about NASA and the scientific community being ready to spend billions of dollars to try and prove the existence of Dark Energy, I ask ‘Why?’ The reason why, in my estimation and I may be wrong, is because if it CANNOT be proven to exist, then some of the most fundamental laws of science and our understanding of galaxies, planets, and the universe are wrong or at the very least need to be adjusted. To me, the Dark Matter and Energy theory is a patch to help substantiate an existing train of thought (hypothesis) that may be incorrect or incomplete to begin with.

    @Hooray for Science, thank you for bringing a rational explanation to the discussion. I was not aware of MOND and am sure that there are other scientists both independent and part of an organized effort doing similar work. The vast majority of the work, that is being reported, is towards trying to prove Dark Matter and Energy exist.

    @MT-LA/Nemesis/Alex, I raised a question about the validity behind the science of Dark Matter and Energy, that makes me a crackpot? I would suggest that my questioning of the science behind the theories is as fundamental a part of SCIENCE as is the theories themselves. If people do not question the validity of current knowledge and accept things as truths just because we are told they are truths, then humanity will stagnate into extinction. I’m not some bible pounding, neo-conservative, paranoid conspiracy theorist. I would appreciate not being pidgeon holed as one jsut because my views differ from the accepted norms.

  • Alex the Physicist

    @ Chris
    While I agree with everything you said, I don’t think NASA is trying to “prove” the existence of Dark Matter. At least If I was there that’s not what I would be attempting to do with research money. What they are trying to do (or at least what it appears to me) is to simply gain more data that will confirm or refute the current hypotheses. It is obvious that there is a chasm between theory and observation and while it frustrates everyone, physicists or not, the only way we can reconceliate the two is to obtain more observations and test more models.

    Don’t get me wrong, i have no emotional connection with the “dark matter search” and in fact I would be happier if there is an alternative explanation than the current hypotheses. That would mean nothing short of a revolution in physics and I’d say that’s what most (especially younger) physicists crave in their field. Unfortunately the current hypothesis on dark matter/energy is the best we could do so until we can disprove it, we are, so to say, in the dark.

  • A Skeptical Scientist

    What Chris says strikes very close to the heart of the philosophy of science. Just because Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (GR) is compatible with the precession of Mercury (which it explains but did not predict a priori) does not mean that GR is the last word in gravitational theory, nor is it any guarantee that GR is completely adequate to explain cosmology. Indeed, the well established need to invoke first dark matter and then dark energy might just as easily be interpreted as a indication of the breakdown of GR on scales very different from those probed by the orbit of Mercury. I think that is what Chris is getting at, and our powers of perception are weak indeed if we cannot distinguish that from the position of crackpots.

    Coming up with a theory that explains the apparent need for dark matter and dark energy while maintaining the important successes of GR is a non-trivial endeavor, but one that seems worth pursuing as much as our search for the dark components. While I will refrain from commenting on Dark Energy, the specific example of Cold Dark Matter is at least a falsifiable scientific theory: we have a preferred dark matter candidate (WIMPs) that is subject to detection in the laboratory. If these hypothesized particles do indeed exist in the required numbers, then laboratory experiments will detect them in the next few years and all is well with modern cosmology. If not, then we are obliged to take seriously alternative gravity theories like MOND, which has already had a number of its own a priori prediction realized (rather more, in fact, than GR at the time it became widely accepted).

    As a practicing astronomer, I do fear there is a real danger of slipping into an endless series of cosmic epicycles. If WIMPs turn out not to be the dark matter (as the vast majority of practicing cosmologists currently believe them to be), then we are free to invent another form of dark matter (axions being the next obvious candidate). If those go undetected in the laboratory, we can make something else up, ad infinitum. So while a specific dark matter candidate (e.g., WIMPs) is a falsifiable hypothesis (and can therefore be the basis of a valid scientific theory), the mere concept of dark matter is not falsifiable. Once we have convinced ourselves of the existence of an invisible material that cannot be detected in the laboratory, how do we disabuse ourselves of this notion if it happens to be incorrect?

  • MT-LA

    Chris, I’ll go ahead and apologize and agree with you in the same sentence! I made the crackpot remark because I was under the assumption that you had posted under three different names to bolster your argument (thank you Eliza for proving me wrong). I suppose my main “beef” was with Wizard’s post, not your original one.

    As I said in my post, I have my problems with the “dark stuff”, and I have expressed the same frustration that you have displayed. But according to the BBC, our frustration is unfounded:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/08/the-dark-science-and-poker-in.shtml

    From the article: “The existence of dark energy was established in 1998 and is one of the great discoveries of recent years, but science understands precious little about it.”

    WOW!

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    It is too bad that exoplanets are sidelined to the galactic center instead of searching in the neighborhood/constructing specific ‘scopes. Hopefully ESA will take up the slack.

    The whole question of Dark Energy and Dark Matter disappoints me. It’s an almost given that these exist yet there is no proof of either.

    Quite some discussion there. To short circuit some of it, let me present some analogues:

    – To know that there are hereditary elements allowing for evolution, we don’t need to know that there is DNA specifically.

    – To know that there is liquids allowing for hydrodynamical processes, we don’t need to know about atomic theory specifically.

    So we can separate out the question “if there is DM & DE” as described by standard cosmology from “what are they”.

    And that is what happened, standard cosmology (SC) predicts DM & DE and keeps GR intact, and that has been tested beyond reasonable doubt: these three guys exist, for the purpose of SC.

    (In fact, GR which is known to be a mere effective theory, is embarrassingly correct out to large redshifts, AFAIU.)

    Similarly MOND has been rejected both by SC but also by direct tests of DM (again, within the SC/GR definition) in the Bullet cluster and others. AFAIU theoretical physicists like Ethan Siegel, MOND can’t explain individual cluster observations. I.e. you can make MOND compatible with a specific cluster, but then you can’t predict the behavior of the others.

    [And in practice MOND believers instead choose to predict galaxy rotation curves instead, which DM doesn’t do as well as clusters.]

    In general, Ethan Siegel is a good resource on this, from a description to why he personally was convinced during his studies (the Bullet Cluster again), to the actual problems with DM (galaxies). (DE’s problem isn’t with empiricism as such, but that the straightforward theory is so unnatural in strength – but so will the alternatives be, too.)

  • Chris the Canadian

    Hey MTA-LA, thanks for the link above!!!

    I read the two articles. The first about the new telescope and the older one that was used as a reference by the BBC Article. The article from 1998 discusses the acceleration of the Universe but doesn’t talk about Dark Energy. It actually refers to a ‘force’ that is pushing the planets apart and working against Gravity. Now if that force they are refering to is Dark Energy or has been named as such since that article, it still doesn’t tell us much. All it’s really saying is ‘something out there is accelerating the universe, something. What that thing is we do not know.’

    It is an interesting topic and goodness knows I don’t get the opportunity to think or discuss this type of thing around the office.

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I do not pretend to be a physicist, but I am a pragmatist. The base of scientific method is in order for something to be real, it must be observed and PROVEN. Einsteins thoughts on the Universe being the same from one end to the other is being proven to be incorrect.

    If you are frustrated with the insistence of the scientific community to research standard cosmology, I’m at equal exasperation when laymen promote crypto-inductionism.

    Scientists in general want to test observations and theories to see if they are in error. Why? Because it is known that the process is surjective, several theories makes same predictions, and it is therefore recognized that one can only reject safely, never confirm.

    In logics term, rejection is deductive, confirmation is inductive. The idea that one can prove, confirm, theories uniquely directly is mistaken. This mistake is usually disguised, its inductive nature isn’t realized, so it can be termed “crypto-inductionism”.

    [Crypto-inductionism is popular among theologians, because induction surjectivity leaves “gaps”, in the form of possible alternate theories. This is what they rely on for their “gods-of-the-gaps” arguments. Just showing how fundamentally mistaken it is.]

    Testing works, we can’t tell when anything works perfectly, but we can tell when something doesn’t work at all. Further, since in practice there is only a finite set of theories, the process will end. For example, QM is known to be unique (no hidden variables, as a result of Bell test experiments). The “final” theory may be further challenged indefinitely of course, even QM is despite the evidence it is futile “beyond reasonable doubt”. (And who knows, as there will always remain “doubt” (uncertainty) and error.)

    There is a wide gulf between empiricists, which often recognize that testing works, and theoreticians of the math bent, which believe that physics can be axiomatized and the results “proven”. This doesn’t revolve as much around observation but what one do with it (test of theory vs axiomatization of theory).

    For the later, for some reason Einstein has become an icon. Seemingly unrecognized is his work to test his ideas, by observation and “gedanken” experiments. Einstein was a great experimenter and engineer at heart, despite his love of axiomatic theory.

    I think it is fair to say that in general it is believed that physics isn’t the smaller subset of axiomatizable math: what would nature know of axioms? It is believed that it has the full capacity of algorithmic math: locally physics have the same finite computational resources as we have made ourselves access.

    In quantum field theory this seems continually under test: there is still no axiomatization of 2nd quantization, only a growing set of algorithmic methods. The way to bet is that it never will one such axiomatic method.

    Btw, the universe is “the same from one end to the other” (isotropic). See the standard cosmology predictions and observations.

  • Hardie K

    I’m glad that science seems to have won this argument. If not, religion would be left with too much to explain, which is not its job. Non-professional ‘scientists’ should choose their words carefully. My own gut feeling is that we need some conceptual breakthroughs in understanding the universe, which is why reality is sometimes best explained mathematically. Anyone directly experienced an atom? No, but that doesn’t disprove atomic theory, and the presence of a central dogma doesn’t mean that science is fundamentally dogmatic. It’s part of the scientific method. To maintain a healthy skepticism is human; the power of science is divine. I stand in awe.

  • A Skeptical Scientist

    Standard cosmology does not predict dark matter and dark energy. Rather, these are inferences required by the observations when interpreted in the context of General Relativity. So, either these dark components must exist, or GR is inadequate to describe cosmology. One can easily imagine extensions of GR that might provide a natural explanation for these inferences, but creating such a theory is highly non-trivial (if even possible). I suspect that the answer will only be obvious in hindsight.

    The bullet cluster is frequently mentioned as a disproof of MOND. Less well known seems to be the fact that, taken at face value, the bullet cluster is also a disproof of standard cosmology.

    The problem with this object in MOND is that it has unseen mass even after consideration of the MONDian adjustment of the effective force of gravity. That is to say, even MOND needs some dark matter! Most unpleasant, though it is a limited missing mass problem that could, at least in principle, be reconciled with ordinary non-luminous matter without the need to invent an entirely new form of dark matter like WIMPs. Let’s not forget that WIMPs and the super-symmetric theory that suggests them both remain entirely hypothetical, and have only become standard lore for lack of a better suggestion.

    The problem of the bullet cluster for the standard cosmology is apparently less well known, but is comparably serious. The collision velocity of the two merging clusters is improbably high – over 4,000 km/s. The odds of this occurring in the standard cosmology are something like one in a billion – basically, it shouldn’t happen. A high collision velocity happens fairly naturally in MOND, but standard gravity simply never gets mass moving that fast.

    It seems to me to be a rather serious failure of objectivity to falsify one theory with this object while ignoring the problem it gives another.

  • Wizard

    @MTA-LA

    Not sure what your getting at about socks and puppets. Everything I said is either true or plausible.

    I’ll grant you that it is theoretically possible that a small constant force can move large objects, but this assumes that the force is anchored to something very massive (or is otherwise immovable). Or that the source of the force is balanced by symmetrically forcing equally massive objects in opposite directions. And the balance would have to be perfect otherwise the source of the force would eventually find the path of least resistance away from all the matter it was pushing against. So the choices for how this force would work are: A) Perfectly balanced, B) Immovable (for some unknown reason), C) Attached to something much more massive that galaxies.

    Again I have to conclude that the chances of such a force actually existing is near impossible.

    And my last point… Look I understand the process of science well enough (been doing it long enough I think). I understand that things must be investigated, challenged, proven and/or disproven in due course. My ‘beef’ is that science has swarmed to dark matter/energy like a moth to a flame. The result is that very few scientist are pursuing alternative theories. This latter fact is driven in large part because there is very little funding and/or career advancement opportunities associated with exploring alternatives. And THAT is the crux of my beef. I’d like to see a more equitable distribution of funding for alternative theories. Otherwise we’re putting all the money into a theory that is more than likely going to fail. And that would be a wasteful shame.

    Live long and prosper!

  • Wizard

    @A Skeptical Scientist

    Very nicely articulated and spot on!

    MOND is a very exciting alternative worth pursuing with the same effort and funding that dark matter & energy get.

  • A Skeptical Scientist

    @Wizard

    I share your beef.

    Unfortunately, MOND does not get any funding at all. You are correct that once a paradigm is established, funding seems only to flow within that paradigm. To be fair, there are usually good reasons for this – there are always many crackpot theories for every legitimate challenger, and it can be hard to tell the difference. But there is also a tendency to jump on a particular band wagon and jeer at competitors – after all, there is only so much funding to go around, so anything “non-standard” is considered a waste of precious resources. As valuable as the decadal process is in astronomy, it is guaranteed to follow the party line, then ends up defining it.

    As you note, this is inimical to fundamental progress in science.

  • Louise

    The “dark” problem can be explained by equations that may be too simple for humans to understand. In Planck units M = R =t. In standard units GM = tc^3.

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