Underneath the veneer of certainty portrayed by TV documentaries about the universe are deep questions and controversies.  Some of these briefly appear on publicly-available news stories, only to be covered by new coats of certainty.  Are the new veneers fixing the problems or, instead, whitewashing serious weaknesses in current cosmological understanding?  Here are some quick looks under the veneer.

  1. Disturbing:  “Dwarf galaxies suggest dark matter theory may be wrong,” wrote Leila Battison for the BBC News.  We’ve heard it for years; “The current theory holds that around 4% of the Universe is made up of normal matter – the stuff of stars, planets and people – and around 21% of it is dark matter.”  Why, then, did leading cosmologist Carlos Frenk call new developments “disturbing”?  The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been unable to find cold dark matter (CDM), an essential ingredient for the Standard Model of the birth and evolution of the universe.  “Scientists working on the problem have recently expressed dismay at the universally negative results coming from the LHC, and this has led some to consider that the standard model may be wrong.”  Either cosmologists do not understand the formation of dwarf galaxies, or (something that Frenk is “losing sleep” over), a more disturbing alternative is dawning on them: “that CDM does not exist, and the predictions of the standard model relating to it are false.”
  2. Hunt for darkness:  Various teams are still searching for dark matter anyway.  PhysOrg reported 67 anomalous results from the CRESST experiment deep under a mountain in Italy that cannot be explained except by Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), a theoretical form of dark matter.  That does not mean dark matter is real; only that it has not been ruled out by these unexplained detections.
  3. Antimatter, anti-dark matter:  Meanwhile, other detectors are disconfirming dark matter.  “Antimatter enthusiasts will love it; dark matter hunters not so much,” quipped Stuart Clark for New Scientist.  “NASA’s FERMI satellite has confirmed a previous hint that there is more antimatter than expected coming from space. The bad news is that the result almost certainly rules out dark matter as the source.
  4. Long-held assumption doubted:  We’ve been told for quite awhile that large galaxies grew by collisions with smaller ones.  “ESA’s Herschel infrared space observatory has discovered that galaxies do not need to collide with each other to drive vigorous star birth,”Science Daily reported.  “The finding overturns this long-held assumption and paints a more stately picture of how galaxies evolve.”  That is, for now.  Whatever picture emerges next, “These new observations now change our perception of the history of the Universe.”….

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