Dark Energy: It Stinx But It Rocks!

By Risa Wechsler | October 31, 2007 12:44 am

As mentioned yesterday, I just gave a public lecture about dark energy.
I think the lecture went well. As Jamie said in the comments below, it was literally earthshaking.


Seriously, it seems I have learned out to control the movements of the earth’s crust. I had just finished a rather long leadup about what the universe is made of (from the pre-Socratics through to R&B bands) to introducing dark energy, had just mentioned the 1998 supernovae results on the accelerating universe, and showed my personal favorite graphic about dark energy, which I think I found several years ago in a google search —
and read the label of this lovely substance. Right after the words came out of my mouth, “Dark Energy, it Stinx, but it Rocks!”, the earth started shaking.

Yes, indeed, there was a 5.6 magnitude earthquake, just about 25 miles from where I was speaking, right in the middle of my talk. Right at the punchline. A bit of chaos ensued (doesn’t dark energy always have that effect on people?) but eventually I reigned them all back in with a witty remark and carried on.

Really, I swear I planned that. Can’t wait for the video.

UPDATE: the video is now available! The excitement occurs during minute 34.
“Dark Energy: a discovery so revolutionary, that it shook the earth.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Miscellany, Science, World
  • Thomas

    “The gravitational force is weak,” he said at one conference, introducing his work on quantizing gravity. “In fact, it’s damned weak.” At that instant a loudspeaker demonically broke loose from the ceiling and crashed to the floor. Feynman barely hesitated: “Weak — but not negligible.”

    from James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

  • http://sismordia.blogspot.com Alessia

    Great anecdote!

  • spaceman


    Some have argued that not enough is known about the physics of type 1a supernovae to warrant their use as cosmological probes. Supernovae evolution, metallicity effects, and so on, according to the skeptical naysayers, may be tricking us into thinking that the Universe’s expansion is accelerating when in fact it is not. How sure are we that the supernovae are reliable standard candles, as it seems like the more we come to know about them the less of a homogeneous group they seem? One of the things I’ve liked about the ‘concordance model’ is that multiple lines of evidence seem to be telling us the same thing. Namely, we live in a 13 billion yr old, spatially flat Universe, dominated by dark matter and dark energy. Thus, it seems unlikely that all of the supernovae systematic errors could combine and make it look like the Universe is accelerating and still agree with other lines of evidence that support the existence of dark energy. Who is right the skeptical naysayers or the supernovae researchers?

  • Mike

    In a string theory class, Hiroshi Ooguri was discussing perturbative corrections when a student realized these implied corrections to Einstein gravity. He asked about this, Ooguri confirmed that string theory adds corrections to Einstein’s field equations, and at that instant there was a long deep rumbling from above the lecture hall, as if a series of shelves were knocked over in succession in a room above. I forget how Ooguri replied.

  • Mike

    … and just think: maybe there’s a multiverse and then maybe on some earth in some other universe there’s an earthquake every time you say “dark energy, it stinx but it rocks!”

  • http://slac.stanford.edu/~bgerke Brian

    spaceman (#3)-

    I helped answer people’s questions after Risa’s talk last night, so I might as well take my little sideshow online too.

    One of the great things about supernova astronomy is that, even without understanding all of the physics perfectly, we can study nearby supernovae empirically and determine that they do, in fact, appear to make good standard candles. We can also invent models that make predictions about how their properties might evolve with time. The skeptical argument used to be that such evolution could mimic the signature of cosmic acceleration. However, the dark energy model says that the acceleration started only recently in cosmic history (relatively speaking). So if we look far enough away (i.e., far enough back in time) we ought to be able to see the epoch in which the universe was DEcelerating. That is, the supernovae, instead of appearing “too faint” will start to appear “too bright.” That effect has now been observed–right where it should be. It is very difficult to come up with a model of supernova evolution that produces the same signature.

    There have been a lot of other detailed statistical checks performed as the number of known supernova has increased, and no one has ever seen any evidence of major unknown evolutionary effects. Add to that the concordance that you mentioned with completely independent lines of evidence, and you’re left with no strong reason to believe that we’re being fooled by some unknown evolution in the supernovae. Indeed, there are very few people left who seriously think so.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis
  • Pingback: Often in Error...()

  • Torbj√∂rn Larsson, OM

    Feynman barely hesitated: “Weak — but not negligible.”

    I love when people get it just right.

    My personal favorite happened when a fellow student wandered into class the first couple of weeks at the university, map in hand and discussing directions with his friend, new town and all. As we all looked up right after the teacher had delivered a scathing judgment on late arrivals, he sensed something was wrong, calmly surveyed the room and continued audibly: “… and here it is!”

    The teacher continued the lecture without further comment.

  • Chris W.

    Here is somebody else who experienced that quake.


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