Monday, September 11, 2006

Is The Big Bang A Big Goose Chase?

Or is this simply a matter of not having the right tool for the right job? is reporting on a new study in an article entitled Study Questions Big Bang (Scientists Question the Study).

In the September 1st issue of The Astrophysical Journal, Richard Lieu from the U. of Alabama and his team used the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP for short) to take a look at the Cosmic Microwave Background inside galaxy clusters. They were specifically looking for a particular "shadow effect", called Sunyaev-Zel'dovich.

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation is a faint afterglow permeating the universe. Many scientists have hailed CMB observations as strong evidence for the Big Bang.

A shadow effect called Sunyaev-Zel'dovich is a distortion that affects CMB photons inside galaxy clusters. It occurs when high-energy electrons inside the clusters crash into the more sluggish CMB photons, boosting them to higher energy levels.

This shifts the CMB spectrum inside clusters from low to higher energies. The dearth of low-energy microwaves inside the clusters means that instruments like the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) should see fewer low-energy CMB photons inside clusters compared to outside.

"That's the shadow effect—that at lower energy you see the CMB has a decrement in the direction of the cluster," explained Niayesh Afshordi, an astrophysicist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study.

Bottom line - they didn't see enough of it, which at first blush might seem to cast doubt on the whole Big Bang thing.

Problem - WMAP isn't really the best tool for the job. Enter astrophysicist David Spergel of Princeton.

But Spergel says he seriously doubts the conclusions reached by Lieu's team are correct for a number of reasons. First, WMAP, one of the instruments used by Lieu's team, is not the best instrument for detecting the shadow effect, Spergel said. The shadow effect "occurs on small angular scales predominately, while WMAP is designed to look at large scales across the sky," he said.

Secondly, other astronomers have confirmed the shadow effect in other galaxy clusters using not only WMAP, but also with ground-based radio telescopes, which have higher resolution and are thus better able to spot the effect.

Counterpunch from Lieu...

Lieu counters that WMAP's resolution might be a problem for far away galaxy clusters, but points out that the clusters he examined were relatively close by, and certainly close enough for WMAP to see a shadow effect if it existed.

"The WMAP's resolution is not an excuse here," Lieu said.

Ok, so Lieu isn't actually saying the Big Bang didn't happen, he's just not down with WMAP not being the right tool for the job.

It's possible that there's something scientists don't understand yet about galaxies and galaxy clusters (Afshordi's thought), or that the particular galaxies Lieu looked at are such strong radio emitting galaxies that we don't see a shadow (Lieu's thought). Like staring into a search lamp and looking for shadows.

So what happens when scientists disagree? They go back and look some more. Notice - no lawyers involved here.

Just so y'know.

The abstract of the paper by Lieu and company can be found here, subscription required for the full paper.

4 Eloquent Orations:

On 9/11/2006 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Altabin waxed damned near poetic whilst opining...

Just a gentle criticism from those of us who have come to love this blog - Janiebelle is starting to sound more and more like a middle-aged (male) astronomy geek. Please keep in character - Janiebelle is the world's favorite underage lesbian intelligent-design provocateuse!

Altabin Rex


On 9/11/2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger JanieBelle waxed damned near poetic whilst opining...

Of course you're right, altabin.

I seem to have been possessed by some mad demon. I'll try to do better at keeping him on a leash. But Geez O Man, you know how guys are. Give 'em a little knee, they try for the thigh...

Thank you so much for your thoughts. It's really very sweet of you to say so.

And for the record, I'm not a lesbian. I am without sexual preference.

Just so y'know.

Welcome on your first comment here, Altabin Rex.

Kisses (you haven't earned the tongue yet, but stick around...)




On 9/11/2006 04:34:00 PM, Blogger Altabin waxed damned near poetic whilst opining...

Thank you, Janiebelle - I hope to earn that distinction soon...

I missed the thread the other day on the future of the blog, but I do have some thoughts. (And perhaps these are more for Lou's ears than JB's - I don't want to hurt any feelings here).

This has been a delicious little fiction, with truly endearing characters, as well as one of the finest internet pranks ever played. As much as I enjoyed the "unmasking" - both admiring the ingenuity of the plot and having my curiosity satisfied at last! - I confess to feeling a twinge of disappointment as well. UDOJ was intriguing - surely, I thought (as most PT/AtBC etc. denizens and lurkers probably thought) this is a ruse - but the uncertainty, the not knowing who was (or were) behind the disguises, kept the game fresh.

Now that the Janie is out of the bottle, it's difficult to put her back in...

My idea is that UDOJ could be turned into a special kind of group blog. Gather together some literature/science/erotica (!) writers, male and female (I think gender ambiguity is crucial to the success of this blog). They should develop the lives, loves, and scientific investigations of Janiebelle and Corporal Kate - posting always under one of these two personae (or perhaps even introducing other characters into the story). It is crucial that no reader of the blog should be informed who the real authors of the posts are (though they will certainly have a lot of fun trying to guess). To make it interesting, perhaps the team members themselves should not be able to find out which of them was responsible for any particular post.

I wouldn't want for a moment to detract from Lou's wonderful act of creation - but this might help to keep the blog fresh, intriguing, mysterious and perhaps even sexy...

Just a thought ... Altabin Rex.


On 9/11/2006 05:19:00 PM, Blogger JanieBelle waxed damned near poetic whilst opining...

"This has been a delicious little fiction, with truly endearing characters, as well as one of the finest internet pranks ever played"

Have you ever heard that expression "flattery will get you nowhere"? Yeah, that's a lie. Please continue.


"My idea is that UDOJ...blah blah blah...keep the blog fresh, intriguing, mysterious and perhaps even sexy..."

That's an intriguing thought you've got there, Altabin, despite the oh-so-carefully almost-avoided-snub about who should be listening here.

"Now that the Janie is out of the bottle, it's difficult to put her back in..."

Cute. You might get some brownie points for humor, but I've got some ideas about what to do with that bottle...


Kate and I will take it under advisement, and we may let The Boy in on it at some point. Good ideas there.



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