Big Bang Background Radiation—Is that "Roar" of the Heavens Merely Laughter?
||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
Everyone appreciates high-quality pictures that show fine detail and capture exactly what was desired. Scientists are no exception. Only this time their “snapshot” may have provided more information than they desired.
With the assistance of a weather balloon, a telescope named BOOMERANG spent ten days in December 1998 taking pictures of the Universe while flying over Antarctica. A few months earlier, a similar telescope called MAXIMA had flown high above Texas for a single night (see “MAXIMA, a Balloon-borne…,” 2000). Both telescopes were designed to perform the exact same task, which was to observe the cosmic microwave radiation.
The telescopes were constructed to make precise maps of the “background radiation glow” on scales finer than one degree, which, according to researchers, corresponds to the size of the observable Universe at the time the radiation is thought to have been released. The design behind these experiments centered on the alleged random fluctuations (referred to as “hot” and “cold” spots) generated by cosmic inflation in the first split second, which would have caused some regions of the Universe to be denser than others. As Ron Cowen summarized the matter in the September 28, 2002 issue of Science News: “The hot and cold spots represent the slightly uneven distribution of photons and matter in the early universe, which scientists view as the seeds of galaxy formation” (162:195).
Supposedly, the telescopes could capture this difference in densities, which is said to have been caused by the ensuing battle between pressure and inertia that caused the plasma to oscillate between compression (an increase in density and pressure) and rarefaction (a decrease in density and pressure). As the Universe aged, so the theory goes, oscillations between compression and rarefaction developed on ever-larger scales. The fine detail in background radiation provided by these telescopes was supposed to provide a “snapshot” of the sound waves during those oscillations. Areas of compression would be slightly hotter, hence brighter; areas of rarefaction would be cooler, thus darker. So, scientists spent many hours analyzing bright and dark areas captured by the telescopes.
Initially, it appeared that the data fit quite nicely into researchers’ theories. Cosmologist Michael S. Turner of the University of Chicago told a press conference in April 1999: “The Boomerang results fit the new cosmology like a glove” (as quoted in Musser, 283:14). Additionally, a team led by Paolo de Bernardis of the University of Rome, and Andrew E. Lange of the California Institute of Technology, declared in an article in the April 27, 2000 issue of Nature that each of the BOOMERANG findings was “consistent with that expected for cold dark matter models in a flat (euclidean) Universe, as favoured by standard inflationary models (de Bernardis, et al., 404:955, parenthetical item in orig.). The MAXIMA team drew the same conclusion.
Once again, however, that was then, this is now. As it turns out, the images these two telescopes captured have challenged the very core of the Inflationary Big Bang Model itself. Three months after the Nature article appeared, George Musser penned an article (“Boomerang Effect”) for the July 2000 issue of Scientific American, in which he wrote:
[W]hen the measurements by the BOOMERANG and MAXIMA telescopes came in…scientists were elated…. And then the dust settled, revealing that two pillars of big bang theory [the current status of the microwave background radiation and the necessity of a flat Universe—BH/BT] were squarely in conflict.… That roar in the heavens may have been laughter at our cosmic confusion (283:14,15).
Why is the Universe laughing at evolutionary cosmologists? What is this “confusion” all about? As Musser went on to explain, the BOOMERANG and MAXIMA telescopes
…made the most precise maps yet of the glow on scales finer than about one degree, which corresponds to the size of the observable universe at the time the radiation is thought to have been released (about 300,000 years after the bang). On this scale and smaller, gravity and other forces would have had enough time to sculpt matter.
For those first 300,000 years, the photons of the background radiation were bound up in a broiling plasma. Because of random fluctuations generated by cosmic inflation in the first split second, some regions happened to be denser. Their gravity sucked in material, whereupon the pressure imparted by the photons pushed that material apart again. The ensuing battle between pressure and inertia caused the plasma to oscillate between compression and rarefaction—vibrations characteristic of sound waves. As the universe aged, coherent oscillations developed on ever larger scales, filling the heavens with a deepening roar. But when the plasma cooled and condensed into hydrogen gas, the photons went their separate ways, and the universe abruptly went silent. The fine detail in the background radiation is a snapshot of the sound waves at this instant (283:14, parenthetical items in orig., emp. added).
The data collected from BOOMERANG and MAXIMA were expected to show a profusion of different-sized spots—large spots would represent oscillations that had begun fairly recently, spots half that size would represent oscillations that had gone on for longer, spots a third that size would represent oscillations that had gone on longer still, and so on. Musser continued:
On either a Fourier analysis or a histogram of spot sizes, this distribution would show up as a series of peaks, each of which corresponds to the spots of a given size. The height of the peaks represents the maximum amount of compression (odd-numbered peaks) or of rarefaction (even-numbered peaks) in initially dense regions. Lo and behold, both telescopes saw the first peak [representing compression—BH/BT]—which not only confirms that sounds reverberated through the early universe, as the big bang theory predicts, but also shows that the sounds were generated from preexisting fluctuations, as only inflation can produce (283:14).
The data from BOOMERANG and MAXIMA did indeed seem to be thrilling. Then reality set in. The first significant problem with the information from the telescopes was that the data revealed only the “merest hint of a bulge where the second peak should be” (Musser, 283:15). This was really bad news for inflationary theory, because it meant that the “primordial plasma” contained numerous subatomic particles that weighed down the rarefaction of the sound waves and thereby suppressed the even-numbered peaks. Musser commented on the implication of this when he wrote:
According to Max Tegmark of the University of Pennsylvania and Matias Zaldarriaga of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the Boomerang results imply that subatomic particles account for 50 percent more mass than standard big bang theory predicts—a difference 23 times larger than the error bars of the theory (283:15, emp. added).
Twenty-three times larger?! WOW! Where did those extra “subatomic particles” come from? No one knows. And inflationary theory cannot function with them present.
Just as the initial shock was beginning to wear off concerning the massive amounts of “extra subatomic particles” that the data revealed, more bad news began to pour in. Researchers needed (as required by inflationary cosmology) to find those “spots” (i.e., oscillations) moving outward and slightly upward at a very slight angle from an imaginary starting point on an imaginary flat plane (Euclidean geometry again—think “a sheet of paper”). The angle—according to the theory that is intended to predict a flat Universe—could be no more than 0.8°. The data from BOOMERANG, however, indicated an angle of 0.9°. If the Universe were flat, and if the rules of Euclidean trigonometry applied (both of which, the researchers agreed, would be the case), then the angle at which the “spots” propagated outward should have been no more than 0.8°.
Additional examination of the data revealed that this discrepancy in angles indicated that the Universe actually is spherical, not flat, because if anything starts out completely flat, then as it expands it will not show any curvature like the BOOMERANG telescope reported. As Musser admitted in his Scientific American article:
…[F]ollow-up studies soon showed that the lingering discrepancy, taken at face value, indicates that the universe is in fact spherical, with a density 10 percent greater than that required to make it flat. Such a gentle curvature seems awkward. Gravity quickly amplifies any deviations from exact flatness, so a slight sphericity today could only have arisen if the early universe was infinitesimally close to flat (283:15, emp. added).
“Close to flat”—even “infinitesimally close to flat”—is not the same as “exact flatness.” And therein lies the problem for inflationary theory. According to the BOOMERANG and MAXIMA data, then, there were too many subatomic particles present “in the beginning.” And, to make matters worse, the Universe is spherical, not flat, as inflationary theory predicts.
Evolutionists who have “put all their eggs into the inflationary theory basket” are understandably upset with the BOOMERANG and MAXIMA data and the obvious conclusions stemming from them, since, as Musser noted, this placed “two pillars of big bang theory squarely in conflict.” But the remaining alternatives are not much better. The only feasible alternative would seem to suggest that the trigonometric calculation used to account for “cosmic expansion”—couldn’t! Such a scenario would occur only if: (1) the radiation did not travel as far as assumed (meaning it had been released later in cosmic history than expected); (2) the famous Hubble constant were larger (which would indicate that the Universe actually is younger than predicted); (3) the Universe contained more matter (which would hold back the expansion); or (4) the cosmological constant (discussed in detail later) were smaller (which would put the brakes on the current theory of cosmic acceleration).
And, unfortunately for Big Bang theorists, that still is not all the bad news. In its on-line “Science Update,” Nature posted an article on Monday, March 31, 2003, titled “Sharp Images Blur Universal Picture.” The author of that article, John Whitfield, pointed out that “physicists’ notions of the Universe could be in trouble. New measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope hint that space is smooth, not grainy. Without graininess, our current theories predict that the Big Bang was infinitely hot and dense—tough to explain, to say the least” (see Whitfield, 2003). “Tough to explain” is yet another one of those “mild understatements.” Richard Lieu of the University of Alabama at Huntsville (upon whose research Whitfield’s report is partly based), admitted: “The theoreticians are very worried. There could be quite a lot of missing physics to be found” (as quoted in Whitfield). “Missing physics”? “Quite a lot” of “missing physics”? Robert Ragazzoni of the Astrophysical Observatory in Arcetri, Italy, agreed. “You don’t see anything of the effect predicted” (as quoted in Whitfield). In short, things right now aren’t looking very rosy for Big Bang inflationary theory. As nucleosynthesis expert David R. Tytler of the University of California at San Diego observed: “There are no known ways to reconcile these measurements and predictions” (as quoted in Musser, 283:15).
Interestingly, not so long ago, adherents of the Big Bang held to a smooth Universe, and pointed with pride to the uniform background radiation. Then they found large-scale structures, and revised their predictions. Now, they have found infinitesimally small variations, and are hailing them as the greatest discovery of the twentieth century. We must urge caution when a theory, claiming to be scientific, escapes falsification by continual modification with ad hoc, stopgap measures.
Let’s face it: the Big Bang is a survivor. It never is falsified—only modified. David Lindley (1991) compared the efforts to revive existing cosmological theories with Ptolemy’s work-around and fix-it solutions to an Earth-centered Solar System. Equations can be manipulated ad infinitum to make “messy” theories work, but Lindley warned, “skepticism is bound to arise.”
And the skeptics are having a field day. In an article with a byline that reads like a Who’s Who of Big Bang dissidents, cosmologist Halton Arp and his allies have introduced a modified Steady State Theory. Not being able to resist taking a jab at their competitors, they wrote: “As a general scientific principle, it is undesirable to depend crucially on what is unobservable to explain what is observable, as happens frequently in Big Bang cosmology” (Arp, et al., 1990, 346:812). Elsewhere, Geoffrey Burbidge quipped: “To the zeroth order [at the simplest level—BH/BT], the Big Bang is fine, but it doesn’t account for the existence of us and stars, planets and galaxies” (as quoted in Peterson, 1991, 139:233). No, it certainly does not.
Arp, H.C., G. Burbidge, F. Hoyle, J.V. Narliker, and N.C. Wickramasinghe (1990), “The Extragalactic Universe: An Alternative View,” Nature, 346:807-812, August 30.
Cowen, Ron (2002), “Big Bang Confirmed,” Science News, 162:195, September 28.
de Bernardis, P., P.A. Ade, J.J. Bock, J.R. Bond, et al. (2000), “A Flat Universe from High-Resolution Maps of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation,” Nature, 404:955-959, April 27.
Lindley, David (1991), “Cold Dark Matter Makes an Exit,” Nature, 349:14, January 3.
“MAXIMA, a Balloon-borne Experiment Directed by UC Berkeley, Finds Evidence for a Flat Universe, Inflation, and a Cosmological Constant,” (2000), [On-line], URL: http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2000/05/09_maxima.html, May 9.
Musser, G. (2000), “Boomerang Effect,” Scientific American, 283:14-15, July.
Peterson, Ivars (1991), “State of the Universe: If not with a Big Bang, Then What?,” Science News, 139:232-235, April 13.
Whitfield, John (2003), “Sharp Images Blur Universal Picture,” Nature, [On-line]: “Science Update,” URL: http://www.nature.com/nsu/030324/030324-13.html, March 31.