I don’t have much time to post today after spending all morning in a meeting about Assuring a Quality Experience in the Graduate College and in between reading project reports this afternoon.
However, I couldn’t resist a quickie just to draw your attention to a cosmology story that’s made it into the mass media, e.g. BBC Science. This concerns the recent publication of a couple of papers from the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey which has used the Anglo-Australian Telescope. You can read a nice description of what WiggleZ (pronounced “Wiggle-Zee”) is all about here, but in essence it involves making two different sorts of measurements of how galaxies cluster in order to constrain the Universe’s geometry and dynamics. The first method is the “wiggle” bit, in that it depends on the imprint of baryon acoustic oscillations in the power-spectrum of galaxy clustering. The other involves analysing the peculiar motions of the galaxies by measuring the distortion of the clustering pattern introduced seen in redshift space; redshifts are usually denoted z in cosmology so that accounts for the “zee”.
This survey has been a major effort by an extensive team of astronomers: it has involved spectroscopic measurements of almost a quarter of a million galaxies, spread over 1000 square degrees on the sky, and has taken almost five years to complete. The results are consistent with the standard ΛCDM cosmological model, and in particular with the existence of the dark energy that this model implies, but which we don’t have a theoretical explanation for.
This is all excellent stuff and it obviously lends further observational support to the standard model. However, I’m not sure I agree with the headline of press release put out by the WiggleZ team Dark Energy is Real. I certainly agree that dark energy is a plausible explanation for a host of relevant observations, but do we really know for sure that it is “real”? Can we really be sure that there is no other explanation? Wiggle Z has certainly produced evidence that’s sufficient to rule out some alternative models, but that’s not the same as proof. I worry when scientists speak like this, with what sounds like certainty, about things that are far from proven. Just because nobody has thought of an alternative explanation doesn’t mean that none exists.
The problem is that a press release entitled “dark energy is real” is much more likely to be picked up by a newspaper radio or TV editor than one that says “dark energy remains best explanation”….