CONTENTS Preface to the Vintage Edition xv Introduction 3 Part One THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE 9 1. The Big Bang Never Happened 11 2. A History of Creation 58 3. The Rise of Science 85 4. The Strange Career of Modern Cosmology 113 5. The Spears of Odin 169 6. The Plasma Universe 214 Part Two IMPLICATIONS 281 7. The Endless Flow of Time 283 8. Matter 328 9. Infinite in Time and Space 382 10. Cosmos and Society 405 Appendix 425 Bibliography 431 Index 441 XIII PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION Four hundred years ago Galileo broke the bonds that had entangled science with religion.
Defying his fellow scientists’ near unanimous commitment to Ptolemy’s finite, earthcentered universe, Galileo defended Corpernicus’s unlimited, sun-centered cosmos. He argued that observation, not scientific or religious authority, must be the test of cosmological theory. Science and religion must be separate, he declared: “Religion teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go. ” But now, four centuries after the Scientific Revolution, we seem to have come full circle. “Historic Big Bang Discovery May Prove God’s Existence” reads the headline of an Associated Press story dated April 25, 1992.
Leading cosmologists are quoted as saying that recent astronomical discoveries “are like looking at God,” that they prove the reality of the Big Bang—a scientific version of the Biblical story of Creation. Cosmology again seems to be entangled with religion, at least in the headlines and in the minds of some cosmologists. To be sure, these newspaper headlines have told a confusing story. In January 1991 the headlines boldly stated that the idea of an explosive birth of the universe, the Big Bang, was dead: “Big Bang Theory Goes Bust” read one in the Washingxv PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION ¦ ton Post. But in April 1992 another headline in the New York Times reported “Astronomers Detect Proof of Big Bang—profound insight on how time began. ” What accounts for this sudden turnaround in the heavens? According to the reports, this decisive proof of the Big Bang, this “scientific discovery of the century, of all time,” this key evidence of the Creation and of the Deity, was the discovery of tiny ripples in the intensity of the microwave background, a sort of universal radio hiss.
Thus, if we are to believe the reports, the finding of tiny fluctuations in the background radiation overshadows in importance the discovery of nuclear energy, DNA, antibiotics, the theory of relativity, and the quantum theory of matter, among other more minor scientific ideas. But reality is different from headlines. In fact, the overwhelming mass of scientific evidence still contradicts the Big Bang, as this book endeavors to show. As of this writing—May 1992—the Big Bang remains in just as deep trouble as ever, with even wider divergence from observation than when the first edition of this book was completed in late 1990.
The blizzard of press releases that accompanied the discovery of these fluctuations by the Cosmological Background Explorer (COBE) Satellite are not mere objective statements of fact but a salvo in the developing cosmological debate, a debate that is steadily growing and that has profound implications for science, and indeed for society. In the year and a half since this book was written, the evidence against the Big Bang has grown stronger, and the COBE results, far from “proving” the theory, have not in any way resolved the problems raised by other discoveries.
The key problem, as I describe in Chapter One, is that there are objects in the universe— huge conglomerations of galaxies—that are simply too big to have formed in the time since the Big Bang, objects whose age is greater than the age Big Bang cosmologists assign to the universe itself. These conglomerations stretch over a billion light-years of space and were first discovered in 1986. In January 1991, while the first edition of this book was at press, a team of astronomers led by Will Saunders of Oxford unveiled a survey of galaxies hat confirmed beyond all doubt the existence of these conglomerations, termed supercluster complexes. The survey, based on data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), showed how prevalent these large structures are. Since no version of the Big XVI ¦ P R E F A C E TO THE V I N T A G E EDITION ¦ Bang predicted the existence of such vast structures, cosmologists viewed the new finding with alarm. It was this discovery that led to the widespread headlines in early 1991 that the Big Bang theory was dead or at least in great doubt.
This alarm was with good reason. By measuring the speeds that galaxies travel today, and the distance that matter must have traveled to form such structures, astronomers can estimate how long it took to build these complexes, how old they are. The answer to the latter is: roughly 60 billion years. But the Big Bang theory says that the universe is between ten and twenty billion years old. The existence of objects “older than the Big Bang” is a direct contradiction to the very idea that the universe emerged suddenly in a great explosion.
This “age of the universe” crisis is rapidly worsening because the theoretical estimate of that age is shrinking by the month. Astronomers have known since the 1920s that the farther away a galaxy is from us, the faster it seems to be moving away. From this basic fact, astronomer George Lemaitre first proposed that, at one time, all matter was squeezed together and exploded outward in a giant explosion—the Big Bang. (As we shall see in Chapter Six, this is by no means the only possible explanation. Big Bang theorists therefore argue that by measuring the distance to galaxies, and their velocities today, we can determine the time since the Big Bang and the age of the Universe. Now, measuring distances to galaxies is difficult. Some “standard candle” that is of a known brightness must be used so that, from its apparent brightness here on earth, the distance to the galaxy can be determined. In the past year, many different such estimates have seemed to converge on an answer—the time since the Big Bang, according to these observations, is at most thirteen to sixteen billion years.
While this may seem like a long time, for astronomers it is uncomfortably short. Astronomers agree that they know enough about the stars to measure their ages when they are gathered together in globular clusters—spherical balls of hundreds of thousands of stars in our own and other galaxies. The oldest such clusters in our own galaxy are at least fifteen to eighteen billion years old—close to or beyond the maximum that Big Bang estimates of the age of the universe allow. The matter is worse than that, however.
As will be explained in Chapter One, cosmologists have predicted a density for the XVII ¦ PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION ¦ universe that is a hundred times greater than the density that astronomers observe from counting galaxies. This hypothetical “dark matter” is essential to the Big Bang. But so much matter would, in the Big Bang theory, slow down the expansion of the universe. In the past, the expansion would have been faster, and thus the age of the universe even shorter—some eight to eleven billion years.
So not only are the great supercluster complexes some five times older than the “age of the universe”—even humble stars in our own galaxy are some four to seven billions years too old! What has been the response of cosmologists to this age crisis? Characteristically, there has been no consideration of the idea that the Big Bang theory itself might be wrong. Instead, there have been two general approaches that maintain the faith. On the one hand, many Big Bang proponents simply say, “Yes, it’s true that we can’t explain the large-scale structures—but this is a mere detail that doesn’t affect the validity of the Big Bang itself. This is much like a fundamentalist saying, “Yes, it appears that mountains are millions of years old, but this is a mere detail that doesn’t affect the idea that the earth is six thousand years old. ” It is simply an abandonment of the idea that scientific hypotheses can be tested against observation. The second, and increasingly popular approach, is to add new hypotheses—something Big Bang cosmologists are fond of doing (see Chapter Four). The latest idea is somehow to push the Big Bang farther back in time by maintaining that expansion was slower in the past.
Cosmologists theorize that a cosmological expansion force of unknown origin is speeding up the expansion. But such an accelerating force, aside from being entirely plucked out of the air, created conflicts of its own with observation. Not only has the age crisis worsened in the past year, but an entirely new problem has arisen for the Big Bang. The only quantitative predictions of the Big Bang are the abundance of certain light elements—helium, lithium, and deuterium (the heavy form of hydrogen). The theory predicts these abundances as a function of the density of matter in the universe.
In the past, these predictions seemed to accord reasonably well with observation, and this was considered a key support for the theory (see page 153). But beginning in April 1991, a growing number of observations showed that these predictions too were wrong. There is less heXVIII ¦ PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION lium in the universe than the theory predicts, and far less deuterium and lithium (Fig. 1). One can fit the amount of he lium observed with one assumed density, deuterium with another, and lithium with a third, but no single amount of matter comes out right for all three.
In particular, if helium is right (no more than 23 percent of the universe), then deuterium is predicted to be eight times more abundant than is observed (sixteen rather than two parts in one hundred thousand). This is another fundamental challenge to the Big Bang, for with these light elements out of agreement with the theory, there is no single piece of data that theorists can point to as confirming the theory. Of course, again there have been efforts to fix things up. Perhaps nearly all the deuterium was burned up in stars so only one-eighth is left, some cosmologists argue.
Perhaps there were little lumps in the Big Bang, so that different amounts of elements were created. But none of these fixes can account for all the data. The COBE observations, announced in April 1992, had absolutely no impact on any of these problems. COBE detected fluctuations of one part in one hundred thousand in the smooth cosmic background radiation. According to Big Bang theory, these fluctuations are relics of similarly subtle variations in the density of matter soon after the Big Bang. Such fluctuations, the theory states, gradually attract matter around them to become large structures in the universe today.
But this in no way explains how the structures could have grown fast enough, nor how the universe could be younger than some of its own stars, nor why the light element abundances are all wrong. Nor did Big Bang theorists even accurately predict the magnitude of the fluctuations. Original Big Bang predictions in the 1970s said that fluctuations of one part in a thousand would be needed for matter to condense into any structures at all, even relatively small ones like galaxies. (This is one hundred times larger than the fluctuation that COBE found twenty years later. When these larger ripples they predicted were not found, theorists decided that matter must be one hundred times denser than observation indicated, so that a stronger gravitational force could speed the growth of structures (see page 33). This was the famous “dark matter. ” But with this dark matter, predictions became flexible enough to fit nearly any result. In the months XIX PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION Fig. 1. Big Bang theory predicts the abundance of helium, deuterium, and lithium as a function of density, here measured as protons per ten billion photons. Abundances are relative to hydrogen, the most abundant element. ) The curves show the Big Bang predicted abundances. The shaded bands show the densities that are compatible with the observed abundances of each of the elements. No one density correctly fits all three abundances and there is a large gap between deuterium and helium. This is in sharp contradiction to the predictions of the Big Bang. ¦ PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE EDITION ¦ before the COBE results were announced, Big Bang predictions ranged from fluctuation of a few parts in a hundred thousand to a part in ten million—a hundred times smaller than the COBE results.
Since no COBE result could contradict this shotgun pattern of predictions, none could confirm them either. The results didn’t even prove that the cosmic background is indeed an echo of the Big Bang. Other scientists, including myself and Dr. Anthony Peratt of Los Alamos National Laboratory, have hypothesized that the background is the glow from a radio fog produced in the present-day universe. Irregularities in this fog would produce fluctuations of just about the size observed, as we predicted prior to these results. And other observational evidence backs up the idea that such a fog exists between the galaxies (see page 276).
Then why was there such a celebration of the COBE findings? To most cosmologists, who have spent their lives elaborating the Big Bang theory, it has become an article of faith, not a hypothesis to be proved or disproved by the evidence. After two years in which every new observation produced a new contradiction, the COBE results, which did not contradict the theory (indeed could not have), were seized upon as a way to defend the faith. Cosmologists loudly proclaimed that none could now question their theory. The press took the cosmologists, the existing authorities, at their word.
None seem to have doubted the overblown claims, questioned exactly how these ripples dispelled all the theory’s problems, or asked any of the dozens of critics of the theory to comment. In an uncertain time, journalists were all too willing to report that the authorities had the cosmos well in hand, that final truths were now known, that science and religion spoke with one voice. This new entanglement of science, authority, and faith, this attempted Scientific Counterrevolution, is dangerous to the whole scientific enterprise.
If the wildest theoretical claims are accepted on the word of scientific authority alone, the link with observation is broken. And if appeals to authority extend to Scripture, if one accepts that proof of the Big Bang is proof of one variety of Judeo-Christian doctrine, then attacks on this scientific theory become heresy, as Galileo’s attacks on Ptolemy were deemed four hundred years ago. This is a return to a cosmology XXI ¦ PREFACE TO THE VINTAGE E D I T I O N ¦ built on faith, not observation, a trend that is a major theme of this book.
Fortunately, this is not the only trend in cosmology. The publication of the first edition of this book in May 1991 has considerably sharpened the cosmological debate and brought this debate to the attention of a broad audience outside the narrow confines of cosmology itself. The idea that there is a scientific alternative to the Big Bang has now been discussed on the editorial page of the New York Times, in popular astronomy magazines like Sky and Telescope, on scores of radio stations, and on several TV news shows. In the past, Big Bang cosmologists have simply ignored the theory’s critics.
Now they are reluctantly beginning to debate with these critics. Perhaps most important, Big Bang supporters have had to take the challenge we pose seriously in their own scientific circles. At a recent seminar by a leading cosmologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the speaker began by r a i s i n g this book and assuring his audience that the Big Bang was still valid. When I gave a seminar on the failure of Big Bang cosmology and the plasma alternative at Princeton University, several leading researchers and their flock of graduate students attended.
Significantly, in the discussion that ensued, there were few defenses of the Big Bang, and the cosmologists’ comments focused on their criticism of plasma cosmology. When I remarked on this, one Big Bang supporter shrugged and said, “We all know that the Big Bang has many problems. But if there is no alternative, we must stick with it. ” Today, this debate is only beginning to be reported in the popular press and in the scientific journals. Yet it is nonetheless occurring and growing. This book is a report on that emerging ebate, its roots, and its consequences. And since, as history abundantly shows, people’s views of the universe are bound up with their views of themselves and of their society, this debate has implications far beyond the realm of science, for the core of the cosmological debate is a question of how truth is known. Must we rely on experts, whose pronouncements, no matter how seemingly absurd, are accepted on faith, or do we trust in the evidence of the senses, in our observation of the world? This question is also at the center of today’s social events.
As I write, there is not a government east or west that today enjoys the confidence of its people or that can credibly promise them any imXXII ¦ P R E F A C E TO THE VINTAGE E D I T I O N ¦ provement in their future. The global decline of production and standards of living, begun twenty years ago, has accelerated. To extricate society from this whirlpool, must we rely on “the experts” who, east and west, call insistently for policies that benefit the few and sacrifice the many? Or can we rely on our own judgment to take into our own hands—the hands of those who work —the direction of society, and of the economy that supports that society?
How these questions are answered will shape not only the history of science, but the history of humanity. Eric J. Lerner May 1992 XXIII INTRODUCTION When leading scientists publicly predict that science will soon reach its ultimate goal, that within a decade everything will be explained, you can be sure that they are wrong. A century ago, one of the leading scientists of the day, Lord Kelvin, stated that the future of physics lay “in the last decimal place. ” All the main problems, he declared, had been solved, only further accuracy was needed. Yet within two decades, the iscovery of radioactivity, the theory of relativity, and the development of quantum mechanics had thoroughly transformed physics and profoundly changed humanity’s view of the universe. Today we again hear renowned scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, claiming that a “Theory of Everything” is within their grasp, that they have almost arrived at a single set of equations that will explain all the phenomena of nature—gravitation, electricity and magnetism, radioactivity, and nuclear energy—from the realm of the atoms to the realm of the galaxies and from the beginning of the universe to the end of time.
And once again, they are wrong. For quietly, without much fanfare, a new revolution is beginning which is likely to overthrow many of the dominant ideas of today’s science, while incorporating what is valid into a new and wider synthesis. The Big Bang theory of cosmology—the idea that the universe originated in a single cataclysmic explosion some ten or twenty billion years ago— 3 ¦ INTRODUCTION ¦ was popularized in the fifties and sixties, and has become central not only to astronomy, but to all current theories of the basic structure of matter and energy as well.
Yet in the past few years, observation after observation has contradicted the predictions of this theory. Rather, such observations are far more consistent with new theories based on the idea that the universe has existed for an infinite time—without beginning or end. As yet, such alternative theories, known as “plasma cosmology,” have been developed by only a relatively small group of physicists and astronomers, the most notable being Swedish Nobel laureate Hannes Alfven. But as the evidence mounts, more and more scientists are questioning their basic, long-held assumptions.
The emerging revolution in science extends beyond cosmology. Today the study of the underlying structure of matter, particle physics, is intimately tied up with cosmology—the structure of the universe, theorists argue, is the result of events in the first instants of time. If the Big Bang hypothesis is wrong, then the foundation of modern particle physics collapses and entirely new approaches are required. Indeed, particle physics also suffers from an increasing contradiction between theory and experiment. Equally important, if the Big Bang never occurred our concept of time must change as well.
Instead of a universe finite in time, running down from a fiery start to a dusty, dark finish, the universe will be infinite in duration, continuously evolving. Just such a concept of time as evolution is now emerging from new studies in the field of thermodynamics. The changes in these three fields—cosmology, particle physics, and thermodynamics—are merging into a single global transformation of how science views the universe, a transformation comparable to that which overthrew the Ptolemaic cosmos and initiated modern science.
This book is a first effort to describe that emerging revolution and its implications. Since it gives the view of what is at the moment a minority of the scientific community, the ideas presented here are far different from, and contradictory to, the most common beliefs about cosmology and fundamental physics. Yet what I describe here is not a fringe view, a Velikovskian fantasy. It is a summary of work presented in thousands of papers published by leading technical journals, work that, although not yet 4 ¦ INTRODUCTION ¦ idely accepted, is beginning to be widely discussed. In the winter of 1988, for example, Alfven was invited to present his views to the Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, one of the most important conferences of cosmologists. My aim is to explain these new ideas to the general reader, one who is interested in the crucial issues of science but who has no special training in the subject. I believe that if the issues are presented clearly, readers will be able to judge the validity of the arguments involved in this debate.
The ultimate test of scientific theories is observation, and I will emphasize how observations conflict with, or support, various cosmological ideas. But this debate involves more than just two views of the universe and its origins: it is a struggle between two different ways of learning about the universe. One, the method of learning from observation, is used by the vast majority of scientists today and by those who are proposing the new ideas in cosmology. The other method, advocated by mainstream cosmologists and particle theorists, is the deductive method, mathematically deducing how the universe must be.
Both methods date back millennia, and over time they have alternately dominated the study of the universe and its origins. To understand the present debate in cosmology, we must understand something of this long history, how the ideas themselves— a universe without a beginning, a universe created from nothing at a single moment—came into existence. For the only real way we have of judging these methods is by their results—the consequences they had for the development of science, and for the development of society.
This history, then, involves more than the history of cosmology, or even of science. One of the basic (although far from original) themes of this book is that science is intimately tied up with society, that ideas about society, about events here on earth, affect ideas about the universe—and vice versa. This interaction is not limited to the world of ideas. A society’s social, political, and economic structures have a vast effect on how people think; and scientific thought, through its impact on technology, can greatly change the course of economic and social evolution.
So now, as in the past, the evolution of society and the evolution of cosmology are intertwined, one affecting the other. This interaction must be understood before one can comprehend what 5 ¦ INTRODUCTION ¦ is happening in cosmology today. Otherwise it is a mystery how certain ideas develop, come to the fore, and are then abandoned, how the vast majority of cosmologists can arrive at conclusions so clearly contradictory to observation.
Today Big Bang theorists see a universe much like that envisioned by the medieval scholars—a finite cosmos created ex nihilo, from nothing, whose perfection is in the past, which is degenerating to a final end. The perfect principles used to form this universe can be known only by pure reason, guided by authority, independent of observation. Such a cosmic myth arises in periods of social crisis or retreat, and reinforces the separation of thought and action, ruler and ruled. It breeds a fatalistic pessimism that paralyzes society.
By contrast, the opposing view, plasma cosmology, is empirical, a product of the scientific method of Galileo and Kepler. Its proponents see an infinite universe evolving over infinite time. The universe can be studied only by observation—there is no final answer in science and no final authority. This approach, binding together thought and action, theory and observation, has proved, over the ages, to be a weapon of social change. The idea of progress in the universe has always been linked with the idea of social progress on earth. ¦
THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK The first part of this book explains the ongoing debate in cosmology. Chapter One begins with the evidence that the Big Bang theory is wrong, and that alternative theories, based on the study of electrically conducting gases, called plasmas, are probably right. I then take a long step back to trace the history of the cosmological debate. Chapter Two shows how the basic concepts of both the empirical and the deductive methods arose in ancient Greece and how they were tied up with the conflict between free and slave labor.
The deductive method’s disregard for observation and practical application of science originated with the slave master’s disdain for manual work, while the empirical method’s system is based on free craftsmen and traders combining theory and observation. In the first swing of the cosmological pendulum, the deductive 6 ¦ INTRODUCTION ¦ method became dominant, leading to the static and finite universe of Ptolemy. The central idea of modern cosmology, the origin of the universe from nothingness, then arose not from Genesis but from the ideological battles of the third and fourth centuries A.
D. , as Roman society disintegrated and the basis was laid for feudalism. The Church fathers Tertullian and St. Augustine introduced the doctrine of creation ex nihilo as the foundation of a profoundly pessimistic and authoritarian world view, a cosmology that denigrated all earthly endeavor and condemned material existence as “created from nothing, next to nothing,” inevitably decaying from a perfect beginning to an ignominious end. This cosmology was to serve as the philosophical and religious justification for a rigid and enthralled society.
Chapter Three describes the next long swing of the pendulum —the centuries of struggle that led to the scientific revolution. The rise of a new and more profound empirical method went hand in hand with the rise of a new view of the universe—infinite in space and time, without origin or end—and with the rise of a new society, one based on free labor. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the scientific view of the universe was that of an unending process of evolution, as the revolutionaries of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw an unending process of social evolution and progress.
The Big Bang and twentieth-century cosmology constitutes a startling return to the discredited medieval concepts, as Chapter Four details. The deep social crisis of the present century gave credence to the old philosophical view of a decaying universe, degenerating from its perfect origins, and to the deductive method. It is from these primarily philosophical premises, rather than from observation, that present-day cosmology developed. For this reason, as we will explore in Chapter Four, the repeated conflicts between theory and observation that have dogged the Big Bang never led to its abandonment.
However, the challenge to the Big Bang did arise from observation. Chapters Five and Six describe how plasma cosmology grew out of the laboratory study of conducting gases and had its roots in the advancing technologies of electromagnetism. As observations have extended outward from the earth and the solar system to the galaxies and the universe as a whole, the predictions of plasma cosmology have been increasingly confirmed. 7 ¦ INTRODUCTION ¦ The second part of the book deals with the implications of a universe that is infinite in space and time, continuously evolving.
In Chapter Seven I examine how new discoveries in the nature of time show that such a cosmos can exist indefinitely without “running down. ” In fact, the universe is characterized neither by decay nor by a random, aimless meandering or by the automatic progress of late-nineteenth-century concepts. The cosmos, and indeed any complex system, progresses only through a series of crises whose outcomes are not predetermined and can lead, over the short run, either to new advances or to retrogression.
Progress, the acceleration of evolution, is a long-term tendency of the universe, but it is far from a smooth and mechanical process. Chapter Eight looks at the equally profound problems that arise with the conventional ideas of matter if the Big Bang is refuted. Not only the most recent theories but much of the underlying structure of physical theory suffers from crucial inconsistencies that remain to be resolved. Finally, in Chapters Nine and Ten, we look at the impact an infinite cosmos has on religion and society.
As in the sixteenth century, the two approaches to cosmology today imply profoundly opposing reactions to a deepening crisis. 3 PART ONE THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE 1 THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED It’s impossible that the Big Bang is wrong. —JOSEPH SILK, 1988 Down with the Big Bang. —EDITORIAL TITLE, Nature, 1989 Cosmologists nearly all agree that the cosmos came into being some ten or twenty billion years ago in an immense explosion, the Big Bang. Our mighty universe, they believe, began in a single instant as an infinitely dense and hot pointlike ball of light, smaller than the tiniest atom.
In one trillion-trillionth of a second it expanded a trillion-trillionfold, creating all the space, matter, and energy that now make up the galaxies and stars. The present universe, the ashes of that explosion, is a strange one, as cosmology describes it. Most of it is dark matter, exotic particles that can never be observed. It is dotted by black holes, which suck in streams of dying stars, and it is threaded by cosmic strings, tears in the fabric of space itself. Our universe’s future, cosmologists tell us, is grim: it is doomed either to end in a spectacular Big Crunch, collapsing into a univer11 THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ sal black hole, or to expand and decay into the nothingness of an eternal night. This striking cosmic vision, built up over the past twenty-five years by hundreds of theoreticians and explained in dozens of books, has sunk deeply into popular consciousness. Many have pondered what meaning life can have in a universe doomed to decay, unspeakably hostile and alien to human purposes. Without doubt, the current concept of the universe is fantastic and bizarre. Yet despite the efforts and firm beliefs of so many cosmologists, it is also almost certainly wrong.
The validity of a scientific concept is not determined by its popularity or by its support among the most prominent scientists of the day. Many a firmly held doctrine, from the geocentric cosmos of Ptolemy to the phlogistic theory of heat, has enjoyed the nearly unanimous support of the scientific community, only to be swept away later. In 1889 Samuel Pierpont Langley, a famed astronomer, . president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and soon to be one of the pioneers of aviation, described the scientific community as “a pack of hounds . . where the louder-voiced bring many to follow them nearly as often in a wrong path as in a right one, where the entire pack even has been known to move off bodily on a false scent. “1 The only test of scientific truth is how well a theory corresponds to the world we observe. Does it predict things that we can then see? Or do our observations of nature show things that a theory says are impossible? No matter how well liked a theory may be, if observation contradicts it, then it must be rejected.
For science to be useful, it must provide an increasingly true and deep description of nature, not a prescription of what nature must be. In the past four years crucial observations have flatly contradicted the assumptions and predictions of the Big Bang. Because the Big Bang supposedly occurred only about twenty billion years ago, nothing in the cosmos can be older than this. Yet in 1986 astronomers discovered that galaxies compose huge agglomerations a billion light-years across; such mammoth clusterings of matter must have taken a hundred billion years to form.
Just as early geological theory, which sought to compress the 12 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ earth’s history into a biblical few thousand years crumbled when confronted with the aeons needed to build up a mountain range, so the concept of a Big Bang is undermined by the existence of these vast and ancient superclusters of galaxies. These enormous ribbons of matter, whose reality was confirmed during 1990, also refute a basic premise of the Big Bang— that the universe was, at its origin, perfectly smooth and homogeneous.
Theorists admit that they can see no way to get from the perfect universe of the Big Bang to the clumpy, imperfect universe of today. As one leading theorist, George Field of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, put it, “There is a real crisis. ” Other conflicts with observation have emerged as well. Dark matter, a hypothetical and unobserved form of matter, is an essential component of current Big Bang theory—an invisible glue that holds it all together. Yet Finnish and American astronomers, analyzing recent observations, have shown that the mysterious dark matter isn’t invisible—it doesn’t exist.
Using sensitive new instruments, other astronomers around the world have discovered extremely old galaxies that apparently formed long before the Big Bang universe could have cooled sufficiently. In fact, by the end of the eighties, new contradictions were popping up every few months. In all this, cosmologists have remained entirely unshakable in their acceptance of the theory. Many of the new observations have been announced in the most prominent journals and discussed at the biggest astronomers’ meetings. In some cases, the observers are among the most respected astronomers in the world.
Nonetheless, cosmologists, with few exceptions, have either dismissed the observations as faulty, or have insisted that minor modifications of Big Bang theory will reconcile “apparent” contradictions. A few cosmic strings or dark particles are needed —nothing more. This response is not surprising: most cosmologists have spent all of their careers, or at least the past twenty-five years, elaborating various aspects of the Big Bang. It would be very difficult for them, as for any scientist, to abandon their life’s work.
Yet the observers who bring forward these contradictions are also not at all ready to give up the Big Bang. Observing astronomers have 13 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ generally left the interpretation of data to the far more numerous theoreticians. And until recently there seemed to be no viable alternative to the Big Bang—nowhere to go if you jumped ship. But now an entirely different concept of the universe has developed, although it is not yet known to many astronomers. It begins from the known fact that over 99 percent of the matter in the universe is plasma—hot, electrically conducting gases. In ordinary gases, electrons are bound to an atom and cannot move easily, but in a plasma the electrons are stripped off by intense heat, allowing them to flow freely. ) Extrapolating from the behavior of such plasma in the laboratory, plasma cosmologists envision a universe crisscrossed by vast electrical currents and powerful magnetic fields, ordered by the cosmic counterpoint of electromagnetism and gravity. The phenomena that the Big Bang seeks to explain with a mysterious ancient cataclysm, plasma theories attribute to electrical and magnetic processes occurring in the universe today.
These are similar in kind, if not magnitude, to processes seen in the laboratory and used in such mundane technology as neon lights and microwave ovens. Instead of working forward from a theoretically conceived beginning of time, plasma cosmology works backward from the present universe, and outward from the earth. It arrives at a universe without a Big Bang, without any beginning at all, a universe that has always existed, is always evolving, and will always evolve, with no limits of any sort.
As yet, plasma cosmology has attracted only a little attention among astronomers, in part because it was formulated by plasma physicists, who attend different conferences and publish in different journals. This situation is rapidly changing. As more contradictions of the Big Bang emerge, some astronomers, in particular observers with little investment in a single theory, have begun to look with interest at the new ideas. They are starting to ask questions and tentatively to measure the old and new cosmologies against each other.
No longer is the Big Bang unquestioningly accepted by leading journals outside of cosmology. The widely read British journal Nature, for example, in August of 1988 ran a lead editorial entitled “Down with the Big Bang,” which described the theory as “unacceptable” and predicted that “it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead. ” A new cosmological debate has begun. 14 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ ¦ THE COSMIC TAPESTRY The challenge to the Big Bang begins with new observations that undermine the basic assumptions of conventional cosmology.
Perhaps the most important of these assumptions is the idea that the universe is, at the largest scales, smooth and homogeneous. If such a smooth universe is dominated by gravity alone—a second important assumption—then, according to Einstein’s theory of gravitation (general relativity), the universe as a whole must either contract to, or expand from, a single point, a singularity. But we seem to have a “clumpy” universe, which would not warp all of space or cause it to expand or contract. Each clump would just dimple the space around it.
Galaxies are clumped into vast supercluster complexes, which stretch across a substantial part of the known universe. These objects, by far the largest ever seen, were discovered in 1986 by Brent Tully, a University of Hawaii astronomer and one of today’s leading optical astronomers. Tully found that almost all the galaxies within a distance of a billion light-years of earth are concentrated into huge ribbons of matter about a billion lightyears long, three hundred million light-years wide, and one hundred million light-years thick. His discovery, while stunning, was perhaps to have been expected.
For centuries, astronomers have been discovering everlarger clumps of matter in the universe, and ever-larger stretches of space between them (Fig. 1. 1). Since the seventeenth century, astronomers have known that most of the universe’s mass is concentrated in glowing stars like our sun, dense objects separated by light-years of nearly empty space. A hundred and twenty years ago, astronomers realized that groups of a hundred billion or more stars form the great pinwheels we see as galaxies, and that these are separated by larger empty expanses.
In the thirties, as telescopes penetrated more deeply into space, observations showed that even galaxies are grouped together into clusters, some containing a thousand galaxies. Then, in the early seventies, it became clear that these spherical clusters are strung together into larger filaments termed superclusters. While galaxies are a mere hundred thousand light-years across and clusters not more than ten million or so, a 15 THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE Fig. 1. 1. The relative scales of “clumpy” space. supercluster might snake through a few hundred million lightyears of space.
Astronomers, excited by these latest observations, began to plot the locations of galaxies on the sky to see what patterns might appear. One group, led by Dr. P. J. E. Peebles of Princeton, used a supercomputer to plot nearly a million galaxies; the 16 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ Fig. 1. 2. The Cosmic Tapestry. Each dot represents a single galaxy. The million galaxies shown here (those visible from Lick Observatory) cluster into delicate filaments (P. J. E. Peebles). result is a lacy filigree of interwoven threads, a pattern one astronomer dubbed “the Cosmic Tapestry” (Fig. . 2). But this was only a pattern in two dimensions, projected against the sky; to see where galaxies are really clustered in space, one needed to plot them in three dimensions. This was quite possible. Since the thirties, astronomers have known a way to measure the distance to galaxies—the Hubble redshift (see box). They had found that the farther away a galaxy is, the more its light shifts to the red end of the spectrum, just as if it were moving away from earth. On the one hand, this became the basis of the idea that the universe is expanding, an idea that led to the 17
THE C0SM0L0GICAL DEBATE ¦ Big Bang theory. On the other, it gave astronomers a powerful tool—by measuring the light from a galaxy one could calculate its distance from earth. MEASURING THE DISTANCE TO A GALAXY As an object travels farther away, its light shifts to the red end of the spectrum, just as a train whistle’s pitch drops as it passes. Light waves (or sound waves) on the receding side of the object are more spread out than on the approaching side. A longer wavelength means a shift to the red (Fig. 1. 3a).
The redshift can be used to measure an object’s velocity. When light from a distant galaxy is put through a prism or grating, it produces a spectrum with characteristic dark lines. Comparing the frequency or color of the dark lines with those produced by heated gases on earth, astronomers in the twenties found that the galaxy lines shifted to the red, implying that the galaxies are receding at high velocity (Fig. 1. 3b). Astronomer Edward Hubble found that the dimmer a galaxy is, and thus presumably the more distant it is, the higher the redshift velocity (Fig. . 3c). Astronomers can use redshifts to measure distance far beyond the limits of other methods. In the seventies, Brent Tully and J. R. Fischer developed another method of determining distance. They found that the intrinsic brightness of a galaxy was proportional to the fourth power of the rotational velocity (Fig. 1. 3d). Because the rotational velocity could be measured from earth by comparing the redshifts on each side of a galaxy, the intrinsic brightness can be calculated. Knowing how bright the galaxy appeared in the sky would then give its distance. 18
THE BIG BANG NE VE R HAPPENED 19 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ 20 ¦ THE BIG BANG N E V E R HAPPENED ¦ Dr. Tully and his colleague J. R. Fischer set out to use the distance measurements of two thousand nearby galaxies to create a three-dimensional atlas of our part of the universe. They were among the best qualified for the task, since they had themselves uncovered a complementary way of measuring distance to a galaxy, based on a link between how fast it spins and how bright it is. After years of plotting and analyzing the data they had their map—the Atlas of Nearby Galaxies.
Remarkably, they found the patterns in the sky were entirely real. With less than two dozen exceptions all of the thousands of galaxies are strung like Christmas lights along an interconnecting network of filaments—a glowing cat’s cradle in the sky (Fig. 1. 4). The filaments themselves, only a few million light-years across, extend across hundreds of millions of light-years, beyond the limits of Tully and Fischer’s maps. Fig. 1. 4a. Tully and Fischer’s maps show that galaxies within one hundred million light-years of earth are concentrated into filaments.
The right-hand view is the view to the north and the left to the south (in both cases our galaxy is at the center of the map). The radius of the sphere mapped is 120 million light-years. Nearly all the galaxies lie along a few filaments, each less than seven million light-years across (R. B. Tully and J. R. Fischer). 21 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ Fig. 1. 4b. On a larger scale, dusters of galaxies are also concentrated into vast supercluster complexes. Here a sphere one billion light-years in radius is mapped, again with our galaxy at the center.
Colors indicate the density, in this three-dimensional computer-generated map, with the densest regions being yellow and pink, slightly less dense regions being green (see back of book jacket). Nearly all the clusters are in the dense green and yellow columns, which take up only a fraction of the total volume mapped. Note the long filament, about one hundred million light-years across, and over a billion light-years long, snaking its way out to the left. The pink cone carves out a region of space that is not completely mapped.
How far beyond? Tully wanted to make a bigger map—out to a billion and a half light-years from earth. For that huge distance he couldn’t use individual galaxies. Modern telescopes can see galaxies out that far, but there are far too many—a couple of million. Instead, Tully decided to map the locations of the big clusters of galaxies, clusters identified forty years earlier by astronomer George Abell. The pattern of the clusters, to Tully’s surprise, outlined the vast ribbons, each one made up of dozens of supercluster filaments.
Tully identified about five “supercluster complexes,” 22 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ each containing millions of trillions of stars. The density of clusters within the ribbon was about twenty-five times that ouside of them. Moreover, several stretched to the boundaries of Tully’s new map and beyond, and all of them seemed to lie in parallel planes—as if stacked in space as part of some still vaster structure. ¦ TOO BIG FOR THE BIG BANG The supercluster complexes directly contradict the homogeneity assumed by the Big Bang.
This homogeneity has always been a problem, since it’s clear that the universe is so clumpy: how did it get that way if it started out so smooth? The general answer has been that there were very tiny clumps in the early universe; through gravitational attraction these clumps gradually grew bigger and bigger, forming stars, galaxies, and clusters. Of course, the bigger the clump, the longer the time to form. For stars, a few million years is enough, for galaxies one or two billion years are needed. Clusters take even longer.
By the time superclusters were discovered, there was an obvious difficulty, and in the eighties cosmologists were hard at work trying to overcome them. Tully’s objects made the situation impossible—they were just too big to have formed in the twenty billion years since the Big Bang. It’s not hard to see why. By observing the redshifts of galaxies, astronomers can see not only how far away they are, but roughly how fast they move relative to one another—their true speed, ignoring the Hubble velocities that increase with distance. Remember, redshifts indicate how fast an object is moving away from us.
Redshifts increase with distance, but also with an object’s own speed, relative to the objects around it. It’s possible to sort these two velocities out, using other distance measurements, such as the one Tully and Fischer devised. It turns out that galaxies almost never move much faster than a thousand kilometers per second, about one-three-hundredth as fast as the speed of light. Thus, in the (at most) twenty billion years since the Big Bang, a galaxy, or the matter that would make up a galaxy, could have moved only about sixty-five million light-years.
But if you start 23 • THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ out with matter spread smoothly through space, and if you can move it only sixty-five million light-years, you just can’t build up objects as vast and dense as Tully’s complexes. For these objects to form, matter must have moved at least 270 million light-years. This would have taken around eighty billion years at one thousand kilometers per second, four times longer than the time allowed by the Big Bang theorists. The situation is really worse than this, because the matter would first have to accelerate to this speed.
Even before this, a seed mass big enough to attract matter over such distances would have to form. So an age of one hundred billion years for such complexes is conservative. Simply put, if Tully’s objects exist, the universe cannot have begun twenty billion years ago. The initial reaction of most cosmologists to Tully’s observat i o n s was to reject them altogether. “I think Tully is just connecting the dots in claiming to see these clusters of clusters,” Marc Davis, B Berkeley cosmologist, commented dismissively. But that position has become increasingly untenable.
During 1987 Tully carefully analyzed his data, proving that it is extremely unlikely that the clustering could have come about as a chance arrangement of random scattered clusters, or as a result of flaws in his calculations. In 1990 the existence of these huge objects was confirmed by several teams of astronomers. The most dramatic work was that of Margaret J. Geller and John P. Huchra of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who are mapping galaxies within about six hundred million light-years of earth.
In November of 1989 they announced their latest results, revealing what they called the “Great Wall,” a huge sheet of galaxies stretching in every direction off the region mapped. The sheet, more than two hundred million light-years across and seven hundred million light-years long, but only about twenty million light-years thick, coincides with a part of one of the supercluster complexes mapped by Tully. The difference is that the new results involve over five thousand individual galaxies, and thus are almost impossible to question as statistical flukes.
Still larger structures were uncovered by an international team of American, British, and Hungarian observers, including David Koo of Lick Observatory and T. J. Broadhurst of the University of 24 THE BIG BANG N E V E R HAPPE NE D Fig. 1. 5. A plot of the number of galaxies versus distance from earth in two small pieces of the sky. Distance increases with the increasing redshift of light from the galaxies. The galaxies are clumped in narrow peaks separated by voids about 700 million light-years across. Durham, in England.
The team looked very deeply into spare in two opposing directions, scanning only narrow “wells” in space. To their surprise they found galaxies clustered in thin bands, evenly spaced some six hundred million light-years apart like the rungs of a titanic ladder (Fig. 1. 5). The entire pattern stretched across a quarter of a diameter of the observable universe, a distance of over seven billion light-years. The galaxies seemed to be moving very slowly relative to one another—no more than five hundred kilometers per second.
At that speed, the gigantic voidand-shell pattern appears to have taken at least 150 billion years to form—seven or eight times the number of years since the Big Bang allegedly took place. 25 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ ¦ SEEKING A WAY OUT As these observations became harder to dispute, cosmologists began to introduce new concepts, based on wholly new physical laws, to bridge the gap between observations and the Big Bang theory’s predictions. This has become an increasingly common phenomenon in cosmology—for each new contradiction a new process is postulated.
The first idea, proposed by a number of theorists, is that the distribution of matter is not accurately indicated by the galaxies we observe. Matter isn’t clumpy, they say, it only appears to be. If matter is spread fairly evenly through space, but were denser, say, by 25 percent in certain regions, galaxies would form there, o u t l i n i n g these regions with luminous bodies. The less dense spaces, though, aren’t truly empty—the matter there just didn’t coalesce, for some reason, so we can’t see it. (This is not the famous “dark matter,” simply diffuse ordinary matter. If this idea were true, the theorists pointed out, they would not have to explain the extreme clumping of matter; the matter is still there, between the clumps, only slightly less dense than the brightly shining matter in the galaxies of the Great Wall or of Tully’s complexes. This theory is entirely ad hoc—that is, it was invented to bridge the gap between theory and observation. There is no reason to believe that there is a lot of gas in the voids, or that galaxies would not form in this gas. But more to the point, the “biased galaxy formation” theory is contradicted by observation.
Astronomers can deduce fairly accurately how much matter is actually concentrated into such objects as the Great Wall because such massive objects attract everything around them. By observing the velocities of galaxies around such objects, it is possible to “weigh” them. This is exactly what one astronomer, E. Shaya of Columbia University, did in 1989. Using Tully’s maps of the region within 150 million light-years of earth, Shaya used the observed galactic velocities to measure matter density, assuming that all of it is concentrated in the regions traced by galaxies— that is, assuming no dim matter.
He calculated that the average matter density is about one atom per ten cubic meters of space. 26 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ The question is, is this all the matter there is, or can there be additional, diffuse matter that isn’t detectable by its gravitational attraction? It turns out that the Big Bang theory itself can predict the amount and density of ordinary matter. One of the two key predictions of the Big Bang is the abundance of helium and of two rare light isotopes—deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and lithium.
These predictions depend on the density of the universe— the denser the nuclear soup, the more lithium and the less deuterium and helium would be produced. Astronomers can measure the abundance of these elements quite accurately by observing the spectra of light from stars and other galaxies; from this they can calculate how much there really is—about 24 percent for helium, one part in one hundred thousand for deuterium, and one part in ten billion for lithium.
For theory to match observation, the overall matter density must be around one atom per ten cubic meters—just what Shaya obtained by “weighing” the matter concentrated in the clusters of galaxies. So if the Big Bang theory of element creation is right, there can’t be any matter left over to fill up the voids, and the “biasing” idea is wrong. On the other hand, if we accept the idea that there is a great deal more ordinary matter than we see, the basic predictions of the Big Bang as to how much helium, lithium, and deuterium are produced are wrong. As a result of such contradictions, the popularity of this notion has drastically declined.
Other ideas have also fallen by the wayside. For example, Dr. Jeremiah Ostriker of Princeton University and others proposed the idea of the cosmic string—infinitely thin, infinitely dense objects, but stretching in length from one side of the observable universe to the other. While this remarkable string could thread the finest needle, it would be difficult to sew with, since it moves at nearly the speed of light, and a meter of the stuff weighs about as much as the moon. A cosmic string, because of its immense mass, might pull matter from a huge distance, forming the long ribbons of the superclusters.
Unfortunately, even cosmic strings could not help to overcome the main problem, the amount of time it takes to form supercluster complexes. They have another serious disadvantage —there is absolutely no evidence that they exist outside the 27 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ blackboards and computers of cosmologists. They are hypothetical entities, predicted by theories that have no experimental verification. And what about the problem of the apparent age of the supercluster complexes? “Perhaps matter moved faster in the past than it does now,” speculate cosmologists, “so large objects could be built up quicker. So one unknown process accelerates matter to high speed, blowing it out of the voids, while another unknown process conveniently puts the brakes on, slowing the matter down to the observed sedate speeds before the galaxies form. But enormous velocities would be needed to form the Great Wall and the supercluster complexes in the time since the Big Bang—about 2,000 km/sec for the Great Wall, 3,000 km/sec for Tully’s complexes, and a speedy 5,000 km/sec to hollow out the voids observed by the American-British-Hungarian team.
If this matter is now moving at only 500 km/sec the energy tied up in its motion had to be dissipated. Just as a car’s brakes convert energy of motion into heat, which is radiated into the air, so the vast energy of the primordial matter would have to be radiated away. Matter colliding at several thousand kilometers per second would radiate very intense X-rays. And there is indeed a universal X-ray background, but the amount of energy in it is one hundred times less than what would be released by braking the speeding matter.
So, where is this energy? Theorists speculate that a third unknown process might convert this high-energy X-ray radiation to some other sort of radiation. Astronomers have observed only one type of radiation intense enough to contain the enormous amount of energy which would result from the hypothetical “braking” of matter—the cosmic microwave background. This even bath of microwaves, radio waves each measuring about a millimeter long, comes from every part of the sky and is considered the key piece of evidence that there was a Big Bang.
According to conventional cosmology, the background is the dilute afterglow of the titanic explosion that created the universe. It reflects the state of the universe only a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. If the largescale structures were created after this time, the energy released in slowing the speeding matter would show up in the background radiation. 28 ¦ THE BIG BANG NE VE R HAPPENED ¦ Radiation can be described by its spectrum, a curve that shows how much power the radiation has at various frequencies.
The Big Bang theory predicts that the cosmic background radiation must have a black-body spectrum—that is, the spectrum of an object in thermal equilibrium, neither absorbing nor giving up heat to its surroundings. Obviously, if the origin of the background radiation is an explosion involving the entire universe, it must be in equilibrium—there are no surroundings to get energy from or give it to. The black-body spectrum is described by a simple mathematical formula that was worked out by Max Planck at the beginning of the century. Plotted on a graph, it rises slowly to a peak as frequency increases, and then falls off rapidly.
This shape is the same no matter what the temperature of the object emitting the radiation is; only the frequency of the peak and its power change as the temperature changes. After the discovery of the background radiation, astronomers used radio telescopes to measure its spectrum at shorter and shorter wavelengths. In every case the measurements fit the black-body curve predicted by the theory. This was considered a great confirmation of the Big Bang. But, as the problem of large-scale structure became evident, cosmologists hoped that at short wavelengths the observed spectrum would differ slightly from a black-body.
They predicted that it would have a little bump indicating the release of energy after the Big Bang—the energy needed to both start and stop largescale motions. Since the earth’s atmosphere absorbs the shorterwavelength microwaves, radio telescopes would have to be lifted above the atmosphere in balloons, rockets, or satellites. In 1987 a Japanese rocket bearing an American instrument designed by Paul Richards and his colleagues at Berkeley finally succeeded in measuring the short-wavelength spectrum at three frequencies, and indeed they detected an excess of radiation over the predicted black-body.
The catch was that the excess was too much of a good thing. It was so big, one-tenth of the total energy of the background, that it could not be accounted for by the slowing down of matter or by anything else. Instead of helping Big Bang theory, the new data just brought another headache to the theoreticians. 29 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ As a result, cosmologists eagerly awaited the first results from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) Satellite. COBE, launched by a NASA Delta rocket in November of 1989, carried three extremely sensitive instruments.
An infrared spectrometer was expected to produce definitive results on the spectrum of the background, since it would measure it at over one hundred wavelengths between one hundred microns and ten millimeters, with . 1 percent accuracy. Theorists hoped that COBE would find a smaller excess radiation, perhaps one-third of what Richards had found. But again they were disappointed. Preliminary results from COBE were announced in January of 1990 at the American Astronomical Society meeting: to everyone’s surprise, the instrument detected no variation from a black-body spectrum (Fig. 1. 6).
There was no release of energy in excess of about 1 percent of the energy in the background itself, no more than one-tenth of that measured by Richards. Since the COBE instruments are highly sensitive and carry their own calibrations with them, it seemed clear that Richards’s results were simply wrong. Fig. 1. 6. COBE’s measurements of the Cosmic Background (squares) showed no variation from the black-body spectrum (curve). spectrum 30 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ Now initially the cosmologists thought that this was just great —the black-body curve predicted by the Big Bang was exactly right.
When the results were announced at an Astronomical Society meeting, there was actual cheering (not a common event at scientific conferences! ). But after a few hours, theorists realized that this was actually bad news: if the excess radiation observed by Richards was too hot for the Big Bang, the lack of any excess observed by COBE is too cold. Since there is no variation from a black-body spectrum, there is no energetic process vigorous enough either to create, in twenty billion years, the large-scale structures astronomers have observed or to stop their headlong motion once they were created.
Dissipating the energy from the Great Wall’s formation in twenty billion years would create a 1 percent distortion in the background spectrum. For Tully’s structures 2 percent would be needed, and for the structure discovered by Koo and colleagues, 5 percent of the energy in the background would be needed. The COBE results ruled out such large energy releases. Thus the microwave spectrum is “too perfect. ” The close correspondence to the black-body curve, seen as confirmation of the Big Bang theory, at the same time rules out any way of forming the largescale structure of the universe from the Big Bang.
The structures could not have formed before the epoch of the microwave background either. According to Big Bang theory, any concentration of matter present at that time would show up as hotter and brighter spots in the intensity of the background radiation. But even prior to COBE, ground-based observation had ruled out fluctuations from point to point of more than one part in thirty thousand. COBE confirmed these results. If the largescale structures existed before the background formed, major fluctuations at least a thousand times larger should have been observed.
Again, this smooth perfection of the background, the same in all directions, has been cited as key evidence of the Big Bang and of the homogeneity of the early universe. Yet this very perfection makes it impossible for the theory to explain how today’s clumpy universe could have come to be. So there is simply no way to form these objects in twenty billion years. Nor can the Big Bang be moved back in time. The estimate that the Big Bang occurred ten or twenty billion years ago is 31 THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE based on measuring galaxies’ distance from us, and the speed at which galaxies appear to be receding from one another.
If galaxies receding at half the speed of light appear to be about five or ten billion light-years away now, cosmologists reason, they were all much closer ten or twenty billion years ago. So to move the Big Bang back hundreds of billions of years, cosmologists must hypothesize a bizarre two-step expansion: an initial explosion to get things going, a pause of a few hundred billion years to allow time for large objects to form, and a resumed explosion to get things going again, so that they only appear to have started twenty billion years ago.
Here the questions multiply like rabbits. But the underlying problem is basic to science. A theory is tested by comparing pred i c t i o n s derived from it with observations. If a theorist merely introduces some new and arbitrary modification in his theory to fit the new observations, like the epicycles of Ptolemy’s cosmos, scientific method is abandoned. Yet Big Bang theory is supported in great part by arbitrary, hypothetical entities, such as cosmic strings. As Tully puts it, “It’s disturbing to see that there is a new theory every time there’s a new observation. Despite the many new hypotheses, there remains no way to begin with the perfect universe of the Big Bang and arrive at the complex, structured universe of today in twenty billion years. As one COBE scientist, George Smoot of the University of California at Berkeley, put it, “Using the forces we now know, you can’t make the universe we know now. ” THE DARK MATTER THAT WASN’T THERE The problem of large-scale structure is itself a serious challenge to the Big Bang, but it is not the only one: a closely related problem is the evidence that dark matter does not exist.
Dark matter is perhaps the strangest feature of conventional cosmology. According to most cosmologists nearly 99 percent of the universe is unobservable—dark, emitting no radiation at all. The universe we do see—stars, galaxies, and all—is only 1 or 2 percent of the total. The rest is some strange and unknown form of matter, particles necessitated by theory but never observed. 32 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ This curious concept was introduced a decade ago and has since become a fundamental part of the modern Big Bang cosmology.
Long before the question of supercluster formation emerged, cosmologists realized that there is a difficulty with forming even objects such as galaxies. As we’ve seen, Big Bang theory assumes that these objects grew by gravitational attraction from tiny clumps, called fluctuations, in the early universe. As early as 1967 Peebles and Joseph Silk had concluded that such primordial fluctuations should show up as fluctuations in the brightness or temperature of the microwave background.
If matter was unevenly distributed at the time the microwave background originated, around a million years or so after the Big Bang, then the background produced by that hot matter would not be isotropic (uniform), but would have irregular hot spots, or “anisotropics. ” By 1970 they had calculated that this variation in temperature should amount to five or six parts per thousand. At the time, measurements were not sufficiently accurate to test this prediction. But in 1973 observers showed that the anisotropy must be no more than about one part in a thousand.
Throughout the seventies, observers continually lowered the limits of the anisotropy, and theorists modified their theories to make new predictions below these limits. Unfortunately, by 1979 it had become clear that this game could not continue, since there was no anisotropy at even one part in ten thousand—and every theory required at least a few times that amount. The theorists realized that there was just too little matter in the universe. The less matter, the less gravity, and hence the more slowly little fluctuations would grow into large galaxies.
Thus if the fluctuations were very small to start with, more matter was needed to make them grow faster. Astronomers had a pretty good idea of how much matter we can see. They simply counted the galaxies. Knowing how bright stars of a given mass are, they could calculate roughly how much mass there is in a given volume of space, hence the density of the universe—something like one atom for every ten cubic meters of space. Cosmologists found that this was not enough. They needed a hundred times more.
They calculated that for galaxies to have formed as a result of the Big Bang, there must have been so much matter in the universe that its gravitation would eventually halt 33 ¦ THE COSMOL. OGICAL DEBATE ¦ its expansion. But that required a density of about ten atoms per cubic meter. Cosmologists decided to represent the density of the universe as a ratio to the density needed to stop the expansion, a ratio they termed “omega. ” If there were just enough matter to stop the expansion, omega would equal 1. It appeared, however, that omega was really about . 01 or . 2—only a few onehundredths of the matter needed to stop the expansion of the universe, and far too little to magnify the fluctuations fast enough to form galaxies. This is where the dark matter came in. If omega is really 1, or close to it, then gravity would act so swiftly that even a tiny fluctuation could have grown to galaxy size in the time since the Big Bang. So theorists simply assumed that this was true (if it wasn’t, the whole theory would collapse). But the observers could not see nearly this much matter, with either optical or radio telescopes.
Since it had to exist but couldn’t be seen, it could only be one thing—unobservable, “dark. ” Dark matter was “the little man who wasn’t there. ” But that’s not all: dark matter had to be quite different from ordinary matter. As mentioned earlier, one of the two key predictions of the Big Bang was the abundance of helium and certain rare light isotopes—deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and lithium. These predictions also depend on the density of the universe. If the dark matter was ordinary matter, the nuclear soup of the Big Bang would have been overcooked—too much helium and lithium, not enough deuterium.
For theory to match observation, omega for ordinary matter, whether dark or bright, had to be around . 02 or . 03, hardly more than could be seen. If it wasn’t ordinary matter, what could the dark matter be? Around 1980 worried cosmologists turned to the high-energy particle physicists. Were there any particles that might provide the dark matter but wouldn’t mess up the nuclear cooking? Indeed, there just might be. Particle physicists provided a few possibilities: heavy neutrinos, axions, and WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particle—a catchall term).
All these particles could provide the mass needed for an omega of 1, and they were almost impossible to observe. Their only drawback was that, as in the case of cosmic strings, there was no evidence that they exist. But unless omega equaled 1 (thus lots of dark matter), the Big Bang 34 THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED theory wasn’t even self-consistent. For the Big Bang to work, omega had to be 1, and dark matter had to exist. So, like the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass who convinced herself of several impossible things before breakfast, cosmologists decided that 99 percent of the universe was hypothetical, unobservable particles.
But cosmologists were comforted that there was some evidence that some dark matter could exist. And if some, why not more? SEARCHING FOR DARK MATTER The evidence was in studies of the rotation of galaxies, and of the motions of galaxies in groups and clusters. Galaxies rotate like pinwheels and move through galactic clusters in looping orbits. By measuring the redshifts of stars or gas clouds in galaxies, or of galaxies in clusters of galaxies, astronomers could deduce the speed of rotation of the galaxies and the speeds of the galaxies themselves.
Now if the galaxies and galactic clusters were held together by gravity, as astronomers assumed must be the case, the mass of a galaxy or a cluster could be found from Newton’s law of gravity. The greater the velocities of the stars in a galaxy, or of galaxies in a cluster, the stronger the force needed to hold them in orbit; the stronger the gravity, the more mass there must be producing the gravitational attraction. This is like measuring the strength of an Olympic hammer-thrower by measuring how fast he can whirl the hammer around without letting it go. The faster the hammer whirls around, the stronger the hammerthrower (Fig. . 7). Astronomers found that there seemed to be more mass in galaxies, measured in this way, than could be accounted for by the stars. There also seemed to be more mass in clusters than in the galaxies that made them up—five to ten times more. Perhaps, astronomers thought, this extra mass is the dark matter. Unfortunately, there was only enough to bring omega up to . 1, far too little to “close the universe” and solve the various problems confronting the Big Bang theory. But, cosmologists reasoned, at least there is some dark matter, so perhaps there is more 35 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ Fig. 1. 7.
Measuring a duster’s mass. Using redshifts, astronomers can measure the velocities of galaxies moving in the gravitational field of a cluster. They can also measure the distance (R) of each galaxy from the cluster’s center. Knowing both numbers, they can estimate the mass of the galaxy—the bigger the cluster and the faster its galaxies, the higher its mass. To be exact, the mass is just the product of the square of the velocity times the radius of the objects, divided by G, the universal gravitational constant. dark matter, more exotic, evenly spaced throughout the universe, not even revealing itself by its gravity.
This was, to be sure, a very slender thread to hang a theory of the entire universe on—and in 1984, that thread was cut. Mauri Valtonen of the University of Turku, Finland, and Gene Byrd of the University of Alabama teamed up to take a critical look at this evidence for dark matter. They started with galactic clusters, where they knew there was a potential complication. The redshift of the galaxies was being used for two purposes: first, to measure the distance to the galaxies and thus to see if they were even part of the cluster; and second, to measure their velocities within the cluster.
There was a potential for error: a galaxy nearer to us than the cluster to which it appeared to belong could be mistaken for one in the cluster that is moving toward us, while one farther away could be misidentified as a cluster galaxy moving away (Fig. 1. 8). It would then be an “interloper”—ap36 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED pearing to be part of the cluster, but actually being far behind it. If these interlopers (which are not in fact part of the cluster) are included in calculations, their velocities would drive up the apparent mass of the cluster, creating apparent mass where there is none—”missing” mass.
To go back to the hammer-thrower, the error would be the same as watching a film of the athlete and accidentally measuring the speed of a flying hammer in the background, rather than the speed of the hammer he is actually holding. If the background hammer was far faster, the strength of the athlete would be overestimated, just like the mass of the cluster. Valtonen and Byrd found a telltale sign that this was happening. Astronomers had observed the curious fact that in virtually every cluster of galaxies the brightest galaxy seemed to be mov- Fig. 1. 8.
Let’s assume we are studying a cluster of galaxies six hundred million light-years (Mly) away. Its average redshift indicates a Hubble expansion velocity of 10,000 km/sec—that is, it’s receding from us at that rate. Now we see in the same line of sight a galaxy with a redshift of 12,000 km/sec. We can assume it is part of the cluster and shares its 10,000 km/sec Hubble velocity—and thus that the 2,000 km/sec difference is its orbital velocity relative to the center of the cluster. Or it might have very little velocity and be located 720 Mly from us—so that the whole 12,000 km/sec is the galaxy’s Hubble expansion velocity.
In that case it is 120 Mly behind the cluster and not part of it at all (a typical cluster is only 10 or 12 Mly across). 37 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ ing away more slowly than the cluster it belonged to—that is, the brightest galaxy’s redshift was always less than the average redshift of the cluster as a whole. Valtonen and Byrd showed that this should be expected if some of the galaxies apparently in the cluster are really interlopers, not actual cluster members. Since the “cone” of our vision widens with distance, there will be more interlopers behind the group than in front of it (Fig. . 9)—and they’ll be redshifted relative to the true center of the cluster. If, as seems reasonable, the brightest galaxy (because it’s largest) is generally near the center, its redshift will be less than the average of all the galaxies thought to be in the group, including the predominantly background interlopers. Fig. 1. 9. Since the cone of vision toward a cluster is narrower in front (A) than behind (B), there will be more red than blue interlopers, making the average redshift appear higher than it actually is.
There was another reason, the two astronomers found, that the cluster mass might be overestimated. Clusters tend to be dominated by a pair of extremely heavy elliptical galaxies. Astronomers believe these galaxies grew to be as much as a thousand times more massive than our own galaxy by gravitationally swallowing smaller neighbors. But Byrd and Valtonen, using computer simulations, discovered that small galaxies might suffer a different fate: they might be caught in the pair’s gravitational field and be thrown away from the cluster at high speed. 38
THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED Here was another source of error. If astronomers included escaping galaxies as members of the cluster, thinking them still bound to it by gravity, again they would overestimate the gravity of the cluster and therefore its mass, just as the hammerthrower’s strength would be overestimated if the speed of the hammer was measured after he had let go of it. If astronomers included both the galaxies that had been flung away from the cluster and the interlopers in their calculations, the cluster’s mass would be greatly exaggerated.
In fact, Valtonen and Byrd found that these two errors would account for all of the “missing mass”: in pairs of galaxies, groups of galaxies, and clusters there is no dark matter. And when they examined the motions of small nearby companions, they found the galaxies themselves weighed just as much as the visible matter composing them. Valtonen and Byrd’s results have now received important confirmation from Columbia’s Shaya. Shaya measured the velocities and positions of hundreds of galaxies in a broad region, in effect weighing all the matter in the clusters at once. He found a value of omega, . 03, very close to the value of . 2 found by Byrd and Valtonen. Again, there is just no room for dark matter—about half the matter is in galaxies and their bright stars, another half in glowing gases tightly bound into the clusters and superclusters, gas that can be observed by radio telescopes. These results have been published in leading journals, yet have stirred little discussion and no attempts at refutation. They completely eliminate any evidence for dark matter—what you see in the universe is what there is. The implication is that the many papers written about axions, heavy neutrinos, cold dark matter, and hot dark matter are entirely without any real foundation.
But without dark matter, the Big Bang theorists say, no galaxies, stars, or planets can form. As a scientist on the COBE team, John Mather, quipped, “If these theories are right, we shouldn’t be here. ” THE PLASMA ALTERNATIVE The test of scientific theory is the correspondence of predictions and observation, and the Big Bang has flunked. It predicts that there should be no objects in the universe older than twenty 39 ¦ THE C0SM0L0GICAL DEBATE billion years and larger than 150 million light-years across. There are. It predicts that the universe, on such a large scale, should be smooth and homogeneous.
The universe isn’t. The theory predicts that, to produce the galaxies we see around us from the tiny fluctuations evident in the microwave background, there must be a hundred times as much dark matter as visible matter. There’s no evidence that there’s any dark matter at all. And if there is no dark matter, the theory predicts, no galaxies will form. Yet there they are, scattered across the sky. We live in one. Dozens of new papers on the Big Bang are published every month, but less than a handful question its basic validity.
With so many scientists assuming that it’s right, abandoning it is not that easy. “The Big Bang could fail altogether,” conceded Harvard’s George Field. “It’s a question of taste as to when you jump ship and go off into the unknown. I myself am conservative and I’ll stay with it for now. ” Historically, few theories in science have been abandoned without a clear alternative in sight. For decades, there has been no evident alternative cosmology. Now there is one: plasma cosmology. Its pioneer is Hannes Alfven, a Swedish Nobel laureate and the virtual founder of modern plasma physics.
To Alfven, the most critical difference between his approach and that of the Big Bang cosmologists is one of method. “When men think about the universe, there is always a conflict between the mythical and the empirical scientific approach,” he explains. “In myth, one tries to deduce how the gods must have created the world, what perfect principle must have been used. ” This, he says, is the method of conventional cosmology today: to begin from a mathematical theory, to deduce from that theory how the universe must have begun, and to work forward from that beginning to the present-day cosmos.
The Big Bang fails scientifically because it seeks to derive the present, historically formed universe from a hypothetical perfection in the past. All the contradictions with observation stem from this fundamental flaw (as we shall see in greater detail in Chapter Four). The other method is the one Alfven himself employs. “I have always believed that astrophysics should be the extrapolation of laboratory physics, that we must begin from the present universe and work our way backward to progressively more remote and uncertain epochs. ” This method begins with observation—ob40
THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ servation in the laboratory, from space probes, observation of the universe at large, and derives theories from that observation rather than beginning from theory and pure mathematics. According to Alfven, the evolution of the universe in the past must be explicable in terms of the processes occurring in the universe today: events occurring in the depths of space can be explained in terms of phenomena we study in the laboratory on earth. Such an approach rules out such concepts as an origin of the universe out of nothingness, a beginning to time, or a Big Bang.
Since nowhere do we see something emerge from nothing, we have no reason to think this occurred in the distant past. Instead, plasma cosmology assumes that, because we now see an evolving, changing universe, the universe has always existed and always evolved, and will exist and evolve for an infinite time to come. There is a second critical difference in the two approaches to cosmology. In contrast to the Big Bang universe, the plasma universe, as Alfven calls his conception, is formed and controlled by electricity and magnetism, not just gravitation—it is, in fact, incomprehensible without electrical currents and magnetic fields.
The two differences are related. The Big Bang sees the universe in terms of gravity alone—in particular, Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Gravity is such a weak force that its effects are evident only when one is dealing with enormous masses— such as the earth we live on. Only very powerful gravitational fields, far more powerful than earth’s, show the principal consequence of general relativity—the curvature of space by gravitating bodies—as anything other than a tiny correction to Newton’s laws.
The exotic effects of such powerful fields, central to conventional cosmology, cannot be either studied or applied on earth. Moreover, the exotic particles created in the Big Bang are impossible to generate on earth even in the most powerful of particle accelerators. Thus for the Big Bang there is a complete separation between the celestial and the mundane, between what is important here on earth, in technology, and what is important in the cosmos. Cosmology has become the purest of pure science, devoid of connection or application to the humble dayto-day world.
But the electromagnetism that is the basis of plasma cosmology is also the basis of our thoroughly technological society: electric41 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ ity and magnetism are applied every instant to run our factories, televisions, cars, and computers. Plasmas are studied not only to learn about the universe but to study how radio and radar waves are propagated, how computer screens can be more brightly lit, how cheaper power can be generated. Plasma cosmology derives, of necessity, from the interplay between the problems of astrophysics and those of technology, between the celestial and the mundane.
The plasma universe is not only studied differently from the universe of the Big Bang, it also behaves differently. ‘T have never thought that you can get the extremely clumpy, heterogeneous universe we have today from a smooth and homogeneous one dominated by gravitation,” Alfven says. But plasma becomes inhomogeneous naturally. From the thirties Alfven’s scientific career has been devoted to studying and explaining the manifold ways in which plasma, electrical currents, and magnetic fields work to concentrate matter and energy, to make the universe the complex, dynamic, and uneven place that it is. PLASMA WHIRLWINDS As a boy in Sweden, Alfven was fascinated by the spectacular displays of the northern lights, the moving curtains of filaments and spikes. “Our ancestors called them ‘the Spears of Odin’ and they look so close that they might fall on your head,” he jokes. As a young scientist he learned that the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland had explained the aurora as the effect of electrical currents streaming through plasma above the earth.
In his own experiments in nuclear physics labs, Alfven saw the same lacy filaments: “Whenever a piece of vacuum equipment started to misbehave, there they were,” he recalls. They were there, too, in photographs of solar prominences and of the distant Veil and Orion nebulas (Fig. 1. 10). Many investigators had analyzed the laboratory filaments before, so Alfven knew what they were: tiny electromagnetic vortices that snake through a plasma, carrying electrical currents. The vortices are produced by a phenomenon known as the “pinch effect. A straight thread of electrical current flowing through a plasma produces a cylindrical magnetic field, which 42 THE BIG BANG N E V E R HAPPENED Fig. 1. 10. Filamentary structure is evident in the Orion nebula. The nebula is a mass of heated plasma surrounding stars. attracts other currents flowing in the same direction. Thus the tiny current threads tend to “pinch” together, drawing the plasma with them (Fig. 1. 11). The converging threads twine into a plasma rope, much as water converging toward a drain generates a swirling vortex, or air rushes together in a tornado.
The filaments are plasma whirlwinds. Almost any plasma generates inhomogeneity, pinching itself together into dense, swirling filaments, separated by diffuse 43 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ Fig. 1. 11. An electrical current creates a magnetic field around it, while a magnetic field bends an electrical current. These effects permit parallel currents in a plasma to attract each other and twist into a plasma vortex filament with magnetic fields and electrical currents in the same helical pattern. voids.
Alfven believes that the filaments seen in the laboratory, in the sun, in nebulas, are all one phenomenon. Magnetic fields and currents can concentrate matter and energy far faster and more effectively than can gravity. The magnetic force of a plasma thread increases with the velocity of the plasma. This leads to a feedback effect: as threads are pulled into the vortex, they move faster, which increases the force on the threads of current and pulls them still faster into the filament. In addition, a contracting mass tends to spin faster and faster, like an ice skater who pulls in his or her arms.
This generates a centrifugal force which fights the contraction. Magnetic filaments can 44 THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED carry away this excess spin, or angular momentum, allowing further contraction, while gravity cannot. Over a period of decades, Alfven and a small group of colleagues applied concepts learned from the laboratory study of plasma to the mysteries of the heavens. He proposed new theories to explain cosmic rays, solar flares and prominences, and the origin of the solar system—and met initially with fierce opposition or indifference.
Yet as the years passed, the idea that space Is alive with networks of electrical currents and magnetic fields filled with plasma filaments was confirmed by observation and gradually accepted—often after most scientists had forgotten who first proposed the theories, and after Alfven himself had long since turned to other problems. The turning point came in the late sixties, when space probes explored the solar system. “Having probes in space was like having a cataract removed,” says Alfven. “We could see things never seen before, just as Galileo could with his telescope. The early probes showed that filaments do exist near earth, where currents flow along the lines of the geomagnetic field and create the aurora as they strike the atmosphere. Later, in the seventies, the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft detected similar currents and filaments around Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Currents and filaments are now known to exist throughout the solar system, and astronomers have come to accept Alfven’s theories about the origin of the solar system and the electromagnetic origin of cosmic rays.
A FILAMENTARY UNIVERSE By the late seventies many scientists studying the solar system were convinced that electrical currents and magnetic fields do indeed produce a complex, highly inhomogeneous filamentary structure in space, just as Alfven had theorized. For Alfven, however, a description of the solar system was only a first step. Plasmas should look similar no matter how big or small they are. “If we can extrapolate from the laboratory to the solar system, which is a hundred trillion times larger,” he asks, “then why shouldn’t plasma behave the same way for the entire observable universe, another hundred trillion times larger? 45 THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE In 1977 he applied his concepts to the next order, the galaxies, proposing a new way to explain the violent outbursts of energy that occur in their cores. Conventional wisdom ascribes their highly concentrated outbursts to black holes, bizarre objects with a gravitational field so intense that light itself cannot escape it. Alfven had a less exotic concept based on laboratory experience with electrical systems.
In his theory, a galaxy, spinning in the magnetic fields of intergalactic space, generates electricity, as any conductor does when it moves through a magnetic field (the same phenomenon is at work in any electrical generator). The huge electrical current produced by the galaxy flows in great filamentary spirals toward the center of the galaxy, where it turns and flows out along the spin axis. This galactic current then short-circuits, driving a vast amount of energy into the galactic core. The galaxy “blows a fuse”: powerful electrical fields are created in the nucleus which accelerate intense jets f electrons and ions out along the axis. Again, few astrophysicists took Alfven’s description of electrical currents and magnetic fields of galactic strength seriously. But the new theory soon received support. In 1979 Tony Peratt, a plasma physicist and former student of Alfven’s, began to see things in the lab that seemed to confirm Alfven’s theory. Working at San Diego’s Maxwell Laboratory with machines that produced powerful electrical currents in plasma, he saw the current develop vortex filaments, which twisted up into what looked like
Fig. 1. 12. Spiral filaments of current and glowing plasma, a few millimeters across, are formed in the lab, resembling the mighty spiral galaxies of space (A. Peratt). 46 ¦ THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ Fig. 1. 13. A computer simulation shows how two currents in space (seen here in cross section) interact through their magnetic fields to produce a spiral galaxy (A. Peratt). 47 ¦ THE COSMOLOGICAL DEBATE ¦ tiny spiral galaxies (Fig. 1. 12)—a phenomenon that, Peratt later learned, had first been observed in the fifties.
Curious about these tiny plasma “galaxies,” he used a recently developed computer program to simulate the action of plasma on a galactic scale. In his model he created two filaments of current, each a hundred thousand light-years in thickness, and brought them together to see what would happen. The results were dramatic: the two filaments merged, generating the graceful forms of spiral galaxies (Fig. 1. 13). As Alfven had predicted, the simulation showed currents streaming along slender filaments toward the galactic core, from which intense bursts of radiation were emitted.
When Peratt compared the details of his simulation with observations of real galaxies, there was excellent agreement: “I found in photographic atlases of galaxies examples of just about everyt h i n g I saw in simulations—the shapes, the radio emission, all were the same as in the computer. ” Astrophysicists either ignored the work or remained skeptical that such large currents existed. But in the summer of 1984 Farhad Yusef-Zadeh of Columbia University, and colleagues at the Very Large Array radio telescope in Zoccoro, New Mexico, discovered large-scale magnetic vortex filaments at the heart of our own Milky Way galaxy.
Hundreds of light-years long, they were a textbook example of Alfven and Peratt’s vortices: an outer layer of spiraling helixes and an inner layer running almost straight along the axis of a cylinder (as on the jacket of this book), the whole pattern arcing out of the plane of the galaxy straight up into its axis of rotation. Their magnetic field strength, at least a few ten-thousandths that of the earth’s surface, was also just what Peratt’s simulations predicted—and far above what most astrophysicists thought possible on such a scale.
This discovery convinced a number of astrophysicists, especially those already familiar with the work on solar system plasma, of the reality of current filaments in space. The alignments and shape of the galactic filaments simply could not have been created by gravity. Following up his 1977 work on magnetic storms at the galactic core, Alfven hypothesized in 1978 that the universe itself must have an inhomogeneous, cellular structure. In any plasma, from laboratory to intergalactic scale, filaments form naturally. Cur48 ¦
THE BIG BANG NEVER HAPPENED ¦ rents moving in the same direction attract each other, and small currents formed by the random motion of the plasma merge and grow into bigger currents. Given enough time, currents and filaments of any magnitude, up to and including supercluster complexes, could form—in fact, must form. Peratt, in creating his computer models, had also hypothesized that galaxies themselves are created by still vaster filaments, which then provide the magnetic fields that drive galaxies to generate currents.
Peratt knew from experiments that such filaments were typically ten thousand times longer than they are wide; thus the galactic filaments, one hundred thousand lightyears across, should be about a billion light-years long. From the standpoint of plasma physics, galaxies should be strung along such filaments, groups of which would, in turn, organize into still larger ropes. This is, of course, exactly what Tully, Fischer, and others later observed while compiling their maps. As one astronomer, Margaret Haynes, commented on the twisting filaments of galaxies she and her colleagues had discovered, “The universe is just a bowl of spaghetti. Moreover, in 1989 a team of Italian and Canadian radio astronomers detected a filament of radio emissions stretched along a supercluster, coming from the region between two clusters of galaxies. Electrons trapped in a magnetic field emit radio radiation, so their finding provided indirect evidence of a river of electricity flowing through the empty space. The estimated size of the current, some five or ten million trillion amperes, was exactly that predicted by Peratt’s model.
The existence of filaments at the supergalactic scale—explicitly predicted by a small group of plasma theorists—was confirmed by observation. ¦ WITHOUT A BEGINNING Plasma interactions can, given a few hundred billion years, form the supercluster complexes. For Alfven and the slowly growing band of plasma theorists like Peratt, time is no problem. If one starts from the present and attempts to go backward in time, there is no reason to assume that there ever was a Big Bang or that the universe had any beginning. To challenge the Big Bang, however, plasma cosmology must 49