Physics and cosmology are more magical than alchemy as dark energy goes phantom

The methodology is quite simple. First, invent a theory to explain what we don’t know. Then do some fancy maths to back up the theory. Whenever the theory fails, define a magic particle or event or property which brings credibility back to the theory. Spend vast amounts of money on Big Science experiments to find the magic particle or event or property. Find something other than the magic particle or property or event that was predicted. Claim that what was found was a special case of the magic “thing” that was predicted and due to some new magic particle or event or property. Demand more money to do more and bigger Big Science experiments. Magic demands more magic. And so an ad infinitum.

And so came the 4 magic forces of nature which cannot be explained – Gravity, Electromagnetism, the Strong Force and the Weak Force. The magic forces exist and can be calculated but they cannot be explained. Universal magic that just is. One of the characteristics of modern physics is that magical things are given names in lieu of explanations. Then came the Standard Model of Particle Physics and new magic particles named the Higgs Boson to be found by the very expensive Large Hadron Collider. Some data is interpreted as having found a form of the Higgs boson – but that leaves other magic particles and the true Higgs Boson still to be found. (The same data could also be used – probably with more certainty – to predict the next winner of the Triple Crown or even the next President of the United States). Finding the missing magic particles will naturally require more money, more physicists, more cosmologists and more mathematicians. More and Bigger Science.

Cosmology has not been far behind in inventing magical events and magical “things”. A magical Big Bang was to be followed by a mysterious Big Crunch or possibly a fantastical Big Freeze. Now comes another speculative paper and another Magical Event – the Big Rip. We know that the magical expansion of the universe is fuelled by magical dark energy. And we know, of course, that dark energy is simply that which causes the universe to expand. And so the Big Rip may be due to deeper magic which gives phantom dark energy. It is only a matter of time before we find that even phantom dark energy can be further classified into that which spins clockwise or that which is tall.

But not to worry. The Ripping end to the Universe is still 22 billion years away. Maybe the United Nations could pass a resolution condemning this future event. And then establish an International Panel on Universe Change to put a stop to this development.

Marcelo M. Disconzi, Thomas W. Kephart, Robert J. Scherrer. New approach to cosmological bulk viscosity. Physical Review D, 2015; 91 (4) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.91.043532

A time line of the universe from Big Bang to Big Rip. Credit: Jeremy Teaford, Vanderbilt University

A time line of the universe from Big Bang to Big Rip.
Credit: Jeremy Teaford, Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt Press Release: …… for decades cosmologists have had trouble reconciling the classic notion of viscosity based on the laws of thermodynamics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity. However, a team from Vanderbilt University has come up with a fundamentally new mathematical formulation of the problem that appears to bridge this long-standing gap.

The new math has some significant implications for the ultimate fate of the universe. It tends to favor one of the more radical scenarios that cosmologists have come up with known as the “Big Rip.” It may also shed new light on the basic nature of dark energy.

The new approach was developed by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Marcelo Disconzi in collaboration with physics professors Thomas Kephart and Robert Scherrer and is described in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Physical Review D.

……… In the 1990s, the physics community was shocked when astronomical measurements showed that the universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. To explain this unpredicted acceleration, they were forced to hypothesize the existence of an unknown form of repulsive energy that is spread throughout the universe. Because they knew so little about it, they labeled it “dark energy.” 

Most dark energy theories to date have not taken cosmic viscosity into account, despite the fact that it has a repulsive effect strikingly similar to that of dark energy. “It is possible, but not very likely, that viscosity could account for all the acceleration that has been attributed to dark energy,” said Disconzi. “It is more likely that a significant fraction of the acceleration could be due to this more prosaic cause. As a result, viscosity may act as an important constraint on the properties of dark energy.”

Another interesting result involves the ultimate fate of the universe. Since the discovery of the universe’s run-away expansion, cosmologists have come up with a number of dramatic scenarios of what it could mean for the future.

One scenario, dubbed the “Big Freeze,” predicts that after 100 trillion years or so the universe will have grown so vast that the supplies of gas will become too thin for stars to form. As a result, existing stars will gradually burn out, leaving only black holes which, in turn, slowly evaporate away as space itself gets colder and colder.

An even more radical scenario is the “Big Rip.” It is predicated on a type of “phantom” dark energy that gets stronger over time. In this case, the expansion rate of the universe becomes so great that in 22 billion years or so material objects begin to fall apart and individual atoms disassemble themselves into unbound elementary particles and radiation.

As if invisible and undetectable dark energy is not magic enough, we must now postulate that there is a particular kind of this dark energy which is phantom dark energy. It is magic squared and of course the derivative is two-magic. This is not Space Opera, it is Cosmic Opera.

It is perhaps not so surprising that the more we know the more we don’t know and so modern physics and cosmology need much more magic to explain all we don’t know than alchemy ever did.


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