Archive for baryon acoustic oscillations

ESA Endorses Euclid

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 20, 2012 by telescoper

I’m banned from my office for part of this morning because the PHYSX elves are doing mandatory safety testing of all my electrical whatnots. Hence, I’m staying at home, sitting in the garden, writing this little blog post about a bit of news I found on Twitter earlier.

Apparently the European Space Agency, or rather the Science Programme Committee thereof, has given the green light to a space mission called Euclid whose aim is to “map the geometry of the dark Universe”, i.e. mainly to study dark energy. Euclid is an M-class mission, pencilled in for launch in around 2019, and it is basically the result of a merger between two earlier proposals, the Dark Universe Explorer (DUNE, intended to measure effects of weak gravitational lensing) and the Spectroscopic All Sky Cosmic Explorer (SPACE, to measure wiggles in the galaxy power spectrum known as baryon acoustic oscillations); Euclid will do both of these.

Although I’m not directly involved, as a cosmologist I’m naturally very happy to see this mission finally given approval. To be honest, I am a bit sceptical about how much light Euclid will actually shed on the nature of dark energy, as I think the real issue is a theoretical not an observational one. It will probably end up simply measuring the cosmological constant to a few extra decimal places, which is hardly the issue when the value we try to calculate theoretically is a over a hundred orders of magnitude too large! On the other hand, big projects like this do need their MacGuffin..

The big concern being voiced by my colleagues, both inside and outside the cosmological community, is whether Euclid can actually be delivered within the agreed financial envelope (around 600 million euros). I’m not an expert in the technical issues relevant to this mission, but I’m told by a number of people who are that they are sceptical that the necessary instrumental challenges can be solved without going significantly over-budget. If the cost of Euclid does get inflated, that will have severe budgetary implications for the rest of the ESA science programme; I’m sure we all hope it doesn’t turn into another JWST.

I stand ready to be slapped down by more committed Euclideans for those remarks.

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Dark Energy is Real. Really?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 20, 2011 by telescoper

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”.

The paper describing the results from the former method can be found here, while the second technique is described there.

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”….

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