The Axis of Evil: The CMBR Dipole Anisotropy
In my search for paranormal mysteries to write about, I came across some intriguing scientific mysteries. Cool. One of my thoughts in old age is that real scientific mysteries are vastly more cool than basically made up things like UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle. I mean, scientific mysteries are real, not a conglomeration of anecdotes, amateur research, and wishful thinking. Yes, I’m really starting to develop disdain for people who can’t or won’t grasp that science is backed up by vast amounts of empirical data and very solid research by hundreds of thousands of really smart scientists over centuries of time. In their rush to dismiss the judgement of science, critics of science often demonstrate a profound ignorance of both science and historical fact. And by doing so, pass up opportunities to actually question scientific theory. So so many people refuse to accept the Big Bang theory, yet none have even bothered to study the theory in enough depth to actually understand its weak points. And the CMBR dipole anisotropy is a weak point in our scientific understanding of the Universe, no doubt about it.
So what the hell is the CMBR dipole anisotropy? I’ve helpfully illustrated it above, all clear now? OK, it took me awhile to understand this picture, so here goes. The CMBR is the cosmic microwave background radiation, basically the afterglow from the Big Bang and the early days of the Universe. Well, like every other “thing” in the universe, the CMBR is red shifted or blue shifted depending on whether we are travelling toward or away from it. And lo and behold, it turns out that we are moving relative to the CMBR at about 600 kps. Um, this is really fast. It in fact dwarfs the other motions the Earth is doing: orbiting the Sun, our galaxy’s spin, etc. IE the image above is a picture of the sky, and the blue parts of the universe are moving toward us and the red parts are moving away. So in relationship to the original Universe, the Earth, and presumably all nearby stars and galaxies, are moving at an incredible rate of speed. (For my American readers, 600 kps is about 375 miles per second or over 1,000,000 mph.)
Cool, eh? Um, no. There really isn’t any good way as of yet to explain why we should be moving so fast in reference to the CMBR. In fact this little problem is so vexing that some cosmologists have dubbed the CMBR dipole anisotropy the “Axis of Evil.” For awhile many cosmologists did the thing scientists often do when they get results that threaten to overturn existing theory, especially a theory that has some solid experimental validation. They hoped that subsequent studies and observations would correct the discrepancy somehow.
For example, in the 90s with the Pleiades mystery. The Pleiades is a constellation and an actual cluster of stars near the Earth (comparatively speaking.) It’s close enough to Earth that its distance from Earth can be calculated fairly easily and accurately. And since the Pleiades is a bunch of stars, we can get pretty good average values of how bright certain types of stars are. And since we know how far away the Pleiades are, we can use these values to calculate how far away other similar stars are that are too far away from Earth to directly measure their distance from us. So in a very real sense, the distance to the Pleiades is the “yardstick” used to calculate how far away every other object in the visible Universe is. Well, in the 80s they launched a satellite, the Hipparcos mission, that was to measure the distance to the Pleiades even more accurately than could be done from Earth, thus allowing scientists to more accurately gauge how far away everything else in the Universe was.
To astronomer’s surprise, the data from Hipparcos showed that the Pleiades was about ten percent closer than all other measurements showed. This was a huge difference, and a huge problem. This meant that pretty much every calculated distance to astronomical objects was vastly in error, which caused problems for all sorts of astronomical and cosmological theories. Astronomers began to frantically recalculate astronomical distances calculated from Earth to see if there was some sort of problem somewhere, and the Hipparcos team went over their data with a fine tooth comb. Fortunately after much head scratching it was determined that the Hipparcos team had overlooked a rather obvious in retrospect error in how the satellite was programmed to measure distances. Phew.
However, right now it’s not looking as promising for the CMBR dipole anisotropy, several studies seem to confirm that it is a real observation. And no one has come up with any explanation for it. Granted it’s not making much news, but when it comes right down to it, very little that goes on in the scientific world makes the news much. And when we come to stuff as arcane and hard to explain as cosmologyy and the CMBR dipole anisotropy, well, even I hesitated to write about it.
In fact in some ways the main reason I wrote about it was to point out that no one was writing about it. Especially layman critics of the Big Bang theory, mostly the religiously inspired. I mean, here’s some real strong ammo to use to discredit the Big Bang theory, and yet none of the critics is apparently even aware of it? Which illustrates that most critics of standard accepted theories are coming from an ideological point rather than logical one. You’d think that if one was going to debate a point, one would at least familiarize themself with the topic. For example I was arguing with a person who thinks the Moon landings were a hoax, and I pointed out that the Russians had compared our Moon rocks with their Moon rocks and concluded they were genuine. My opponent had a conniption de merde and claimed that since the Russians hadn’t gone to the Moon, they could not possibly have Moon rocks to compare to the rocks brought back by the Apollo Missions. Apparently he was unaware, as are most people, that three Russian robotic missions to the Moon in the seventies did indeed carry back Moon rock samples to Russia.
I mean, I can understand why most people aren’t aware of the Russian sample return missions to the Moon, but if you’re going to argue that the Apollo Missions were hoaxed and the Moon rocks were faked, shouldn’t you do at least some rudimentary research into your topic? It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that most people believe what they want to believe, without ever actually taking the time to investigate the factual basis of their beliefs. So moving right along, I’ll continue to follow the CMBR dipole anisotropy story and post a follow-up when there are any new developments. And if I have made any factual errors above, please point them out to me, since I at least believe I want to learn the facts about what I believe. Gotta start somewhere.
(The above image is produced mostly by NASA and other government funded research, and I’m reasonably sure it’s public domain under US copyright law. I got it from this site, credit: DMR, COBE, NASA, Four-Year Sky Map. The first Russian Luna probe that returned samples from the Moon was actually pretty cool, as evidenced by the fine array of products available to commemorate it. In fact, I know now that my life is incomplete and will remain incomplete until I have a Luna-16 coffee mug.)