Crisis in cosmology stirs emotional debate

The Alternative Cosmology Group (ACG) meeting coincided with the commissioning of Europe’s Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland and University of WA physics professor John Hartnett attended the meeting.

Although weird and wonderful alternatives to the big bang theory have been suggested, the Alternative Cosmology Group believes the most important thing is to first analyse gaps in current understanding by questioning the status quo / Image: Istockphoto

According to Prof Hartnett, there was a lot of emotion expressed at the meeting, with most agreeing that the standard model is a poor description of the universe when compared to what is actually observed. Something better is needed. And that’s where things get interesting.

Professor Hartnett says alternative models suggested ranged from a universe with no beginning or end, to one that was static and did not expand, while others were postulated existing inside shells of matter and energy.

“There was one scientist who presented what he called the eternally collapsing universe,” he says.

“I am not sure if, experimentally, this model is useful because the experiment needed to observe it would be collapsing.

“Another guy represented the quasi-steady state model that has an eternal universe undergoing a series of quasi contractions – not to a singularity, but to a highly dense, pulsating state. We are supposedly in the expansion stage.”

As far out as some of these theories seemed, he says they reflect the growing number of scientists who publicly and privately are questioning the cosmological status quo.

Professor Hartnett says this is what science is supposed to be about, questioning and testing. He warns that many scientists who doubt the big bang fear saying so because it could cost them their funding, or reputations.

The ACG formed a few years ago with a general mission statement as an Open Letter published in New Scientist magazine. Hundreds of top names have added their support since the letter was published, including several from WA.

Its central claim of peer prejudice is, “…virtually all financial and experimental resources in cosmology are devoted to big bang studies. Funding comes from only a few sources and all the peer-review committees which control them are dominated by supporters of the big bang. As a result, the dominance of the big bang within the field has become self-sustaining, irrespective of the scientific validity of the theory.”.

US physicist Eric J. Lerner said “Conventional cosmology says that the cosmic background radiation should look symmetric on the sky, but it does not; the universe at high redshift (very young age) should look different from the present day universe, but it looks about the same. Huge superclusters of galaxies have not had time to form since the big bang, the predictions of light elements abundances are wrong, and there’s no dark matter in some places where conventional cosmology says there should be.”.

A principal research fellow with the UWA frequency standards and metrology research group at UWA, Professor Hartnett’s research work was presented at the ACG meeting and includes the development of stable microwave oscillators based on sapphire resonators, ultra low-noise radar and tests of fundamental theories of physics such as special and general relativity.

He has co-written two books, Dismantling the Big Bang and Starlight Time and The New Physics, and has published more than 80 papers in international journals.

Professor Hartnett says the success of the recent meeting was not in attacking the big bang but in highlighting some of the anomalies in the standard model of the universe.

“On one day, we opened the floor to alternative models. Every person who got up presented a different model and that doesn’t help,” he says.

“It was agreed in the end that the best approach is not to look at every alternative model but at individual lines of evidence and try and make sense of them. Down the track, maybe the best model will come out of it.”

Additional information about the ACG is available at .