SD Study Group and LA Times Article
Jun 17, 1998 08:55 AM
by Martin Leiderman
Susan and I had a great time visiting your Secret Doctrine Study group
last night. It is a wonder how many times I have read the section
studied last night and how anew feels each time.
Since you referred to an articles recently appeared in the Los Angeles
Times, see web site: www.latimes.com; I want it to share them with the
list. They are important since the talk about conditions in the Universe
that could cause it to expand and to collapse, like the Manvantaras and
Pralayas, and about the no need for the 'ether' conceptin nowadays
science. Any opinions?
There was another great article in lA Times about Neutrinos, I have it
if some one is interested.
Los Angeles Times Monday, June 15, 1998
Missing Pieces of the Cosmic Puzzle As physicists continue pondering the
nature of the
universe, they say they can't find 70% of its energy, or the words to
describe their problem. By K.C. COLE, Times Science Writer
[B] ATAVIA, Ill.--Scientists pushing into unknown territory often
find themselves at a loss for words. The more mysterious the
emerging landscape, the further they must reach for appropriate
language to describe it.
Lately, physicists who study the big questions of the
universe can be heard tossing around such terms as "quintessence,"
"X Dark Matter," "smooth stuff," "funny energy" and "tangled
These odd verbalizations mark their first attempts to
understand one of the strangest mysteries of the cosmos: Where is
all the energy hiding?
It's bad enough that cosmologists can't find 99% of the
matter that the leading theories say must lurk in the universe
(the so-called dark matter). Now, they realize they're missing as
much as 70% of the energy as well.
And until they account for all the energy needed to keep the
universe "in balance," physicists can't explain why the universe
has neither exploded nor collapsed.
Solving the "missing" energy problem is all the more urgent
because it lies at the pivot of major mysteries of the cosmos,
including: How did the universe evolve? How will it end? What is
it made of? And that always intriguing question for physicists:
Was Einstein right or wrong?
Recent sightings of exploding stars, speeding away at the
edges of the cosmos, may be a sign of the missing energy at work.
If so, it's unlike anything ever seen before--hence, the labored
attempts at descriptives.
This unusual form of energy acts like a kind of anti-gravity,
pushing distant galaxies apart. The good news is that this newly
discovered "repulsive force" may solve the missing energy problem.
The bad news is physicists don't yet have a clue as to its nature,
its origin or its future.
Although the evidence for a repulsive force in the universe
is new, the struggle to pin down the ineffable is as old as
science itself. And so is the search for an appropriate imagery to
Isaac Newton described the forces between atoms as "a most
subtle spirit, which lies hid in all gross bodies." James Clerk
Maxwell, who worked out the basic equations of electromagnetism,
started with "a lot of imaginary wheels and idlers in space,"
according to the late Caltech physicist Richard Feynman.
Frustration Setting In
While physicists squint into the darkness for clues to the
forms hidden in shadows, they understandably stumble a lot. And
the search for the missing energy is so elusive that it has them
flailing about with more abandon than usual.
"This is desperation," said astrophysicist Rocky Kolb, of
Fermi National Laboratory, where a group of high-powered
physicists met recently to ponder the universe's missing energy.
"The pieces aren't fitting. It's like you understand how the heart
works and how the liver works and you try to figure out how the
whole thing works. For now, we have too many legs and not enough
Many physicists believe that Einstein already had the answer
to the "missing energy" problem when he inserted a so-called
"cosmological constant" into his equations that described the
state of the universe. This "constant" was a mathematical term for
the repulsive force needed to keep all the matter and energy in
the universe from gravitationally pulling together, and crushing
everything into oblivion.
Later, when astronomers discovered that the universe was
expanding of its own accord--spreading outward from its initial
spectacular entrance in the Big Bang--adding an extra outward
pushing force seemed redundant. Einstein dismissed his "constant"
as the biggest blunder of his professional life.
Today, cosmologists are divided over whether Einstein was
right about being wrong. While some would like to resurrect the
cosmological constant to explain the missing energy, others are
busy creating even more exotic alternatives. However, for the
present they have far too few clues to come to any sort of even
Here's what they know:
According to a majority of the top cosmologists and
astronomers who gathered at Fermilab recently, the evidence is
pretty solid that distant galaxies are flying away at faster and
faster speeds. The speedometer astronomers use to measure this
acceleration is a type of exploding star, called a supernova Ia,
that appears to be a very consistent light source.
Because all supernovas of this type emit the same amount of
light, their brightness should give an accurate measure of their
distance. But measuring anything at the far edge of the universe
needs to be approached with a certain amount of caution.
"There's good reason to think [the supernovas] are all the
same. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,"
said University of Chicago astrophysicist Michael Turner, a
leading authority on the cosmological constant.
The true nature of speeding supernovas are central because
they are the one piece of firm evidence that the universe is
really accelerating at its outer fringes. And the acceleration, in
turn, is the "smoking gun" pointing to the existence of a strange
force pressing space and matter outward like a kind of negative
gravity, said Turner.
"If the universe is really accelerating, then we have
something out there with negative pressure, and that's something
new," he said.
The argument that supernovas are flying off at higher and
higher speeds is based on the fact that they appear dimmer than
astronomers expected. If they're dimmer, the thinking goes, they
must be farther away.
But distance isn't the only effect that makes stars look
dimmer. Space dust can produce the same effect. Skeptics of the
speeding supernova theory argue that intergalactic dust may be
creating a cosmic-scale optical illusion. "Maybe they're not
dimmer," suggested Bill Press of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center
for Astrophysics. "Maybe dust is making them [look] dimmer."
The observers who tracked the supernovas said they had
already ruled out the presence of red dust--the most common dust
in the cosmos. But Press, playing devil's advocate, suggested they
might be looking through another kind of dust.
"[Maybe] they've discovered a new phenomenon, all right, but
it's just gray dust."
Hanging in the Balance
Why do astronomers believe that most of the energy in the
universe is missing in the first place?
When physicists add up all the known energy and matter in the
universe, they don't get enough to explain its behavior. The
energy books don't balance.
But the universe behaves as if they do--expanding at a
stately pace. That is, the gravitational attraction of all the
matter and energy pulling inward seems to almost exactly balance
the expansive energy pushing outward. One reason scientists
believe this balance exists is that in a universe with even a
little more energy and matter, gravitational attraction would have
crushed us into oblivion long ago. A universe with a little less
energy and matter would have blasted out in all directions after
the birth of the universe, never slowing down long enough to
cohere into stars, planets and people.
"The universe gives every sign of performing this balancing
act," said Kolb. "It's as if magically the taxes you take in
balance the budget to the penny."
How do cosmologists count up all the energy and matter in the
universe? By watching the motions of stars and galaxies,
experimentalists calculate the total gravitational pull of matter.
By cooking up equations, theorists re-create the ingredients
needed to produce our universe. Both methods come up short.
"We haven't weighed the universe with any precision," said
Turner. "But there is a good case to be made that [the total
amount of matter and energy] is about 35% [of what should be there
to keep the universe balanced]. There's a very strong case for
something beyond [what is already known]. . . ."
That means that 65%-70% of the universe is something else.
"The evidence tells us that most of the universe is 'funny
energy,' for lack of a more technical term, and nothing more,"
Some astronomers took to calling the funny energy "smooth
stuff," to distinguish it from matter, which jells into particles
and stars and galaxies, and is therefore "clumpy stuff." Others
call it "X Dark Matter" or "tangled strings," terms which have yet
to be fully understood.
The challenge, of course, is to find out what this funny
energy is. For now, only its behavior gives it away. The beast
leaves no obviously detectable tracks beyond its repulsive push.
"We only know it behaves differently [from ordinary matter and
energy]," said Kolb.
The repulsive push is actually "negative pressure"--a force
that pulls in a direction opposite from gravity.
Einstein's equations initially predicted that the universe
would gravitationally collapse on itself. Since this didn't seem
to be happening, he inserted the so-called cosmological
constant--his version of negative pressure.
The cosmological constant has come and gone since Einstein.
"It's the most maligned constant in the history of physics," said
Josh Frieman, one of the organizers of the Fermilab meeting.
The main current objection to the cosmological constant is
that it doesn't appear to be constant. It changes over time. "It's
messier than a constant," said Paul Steinhardt, an astrophysicist
from the University of Pennsylvania and one of the meeting
To produce the universe as we know it, the repulsive force
would have had to be much weaker for most of the past 15 billion
years than it is today. A constant that changes is by definition
paradoxical, and therefore messy.
The idea of an inconstant constant so bothers some physicists
that they proposed a new kind of funny stuff in the universe,
called quintessence. The term comes from the fifth essence that
ancient philosophers believed permeated the universe--in addition
to the four fundamental essences of earth, air, fire and water.
Whatever it is, quintessence would be a kind of cosmological
constant that changes in force as the universe evolves.
"Quintessence," said University of Pennsylvania astrophysicist
Robert Caldwell, "is shorthand [for a cosmological constant that
varies]. It's dynamic, it's real, it's substantive. But it's not
like any other kind of matter."
If all this sounds confusing, it is--even to (perhaps
especially to) the physicists working on the problem. "No one
understands it," said Case Western Reserve University
astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss. Like others, Krauss doesn't see
any need to introduce a new kind of "stuff" into the universe to
account for the missing energy. Yes, the cosmological constant
needs to change its value, he said. "But quintessence would have
to change, too."
Or as Turner says: "What was good enough for Einstein ought
to be good enough for us."
Curiously, the universe has been pushed apart by a repulsive
force before. Called "inflation," this very early epoch in history
caused the universe to expand exponentially in the first moments
of its birth. Like the current acceleration, that expansion was
propelled by the vacuum of empty space.
A vacuum holds onto energy the way ice holds onto heat. When
ice melts, it releases that heat, which turns into the energy of
rapidly moving water molecules. In the same way, physicists
believe a vacuum can melt, releasing energy.
A currently accelerating universe, said Frieman, suggests "we
could be entering a new period of inflation." If so, cosmological
history is indeed repeating itself--15 billion years later.
"Inflation happened, and went away," said Steinhardt. "One
question is: Will this period of inflation end?"
Making Something Out of Nothing
Whatever truth they come up with, it won't be the first time
physicists have made something out of nothing. Before Einstein,
physicists had largely concluded that empty space was permeated by
"luminiferous ether"--invisible, virtually undetectable material
that light waves traveled through. Experiments suggested that
light was a wave, and waves must wave through something.
Yet the ether had almost impossible properties. Planets and
stars had to float through it with no resistance. At the same
time, in order to transmit fast vibrating light, it had to be
Einstein's theory of relativity relegated ether to a
graveyard of dead ideas. His theories about space and time
rendered the ether unnecessary and irrelevant. "Einstein freed us
from it," said Fermilab's former director and Nobel laureate, Leon
Lederman. "Now we need to get rid of [today's version of ether]
In the end, perhaps that will be the fate of funny energy,
said Lederman. "Some kid now in junior high school will tell us
[how to get rid of it]." Whether the answer to the "missing
energy" turns out to be quintessence or inconstant constants or
some other kind of strange stuff, the physicists will ultimately
abandon their poetic words and images for the more concrete truths
to be found in equations. "The imagery allows us to move forward
more rapidly, but the truth is in the math," said Caltech
physicist Kip Thorne.
For the time being, the physicists will continue to speak in
tongues, struggling to invent an appropriate language, sounding
more like wordsmiths than scientists.
Perhaps that's appropriate. The late Nobel laureate Niels
Bohr, who first saw clearly into the fuzzy heart of atoms, said
that physicists trying to describe the subatomic realm in everyday
language were more poets than scientists.
"The poet, too," he wrote, "is not nearly so concerned with
describing facts as with creating images."
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