Archive for Dark Energy

Can Black Holes really create Dark Energy?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on February 25, 2023 by telescoper
Gratuitous Black Hole Graphic

A couple of papers were published recently that attracted quite a lot of media interest so I thought I’d mention the work here.

The researchers detail the theory in two papers, published in The Astrophysical Journal and The Astrophysical Journal Letterswith both laying out different aspects of the cosmological connection and providing the first “astrophysical explanation of dark energy”. The lead author of both papers is Duncan Farrah of the University of Hawaii. Both are available on the arXiv, where all papers worth reading in astrophysics can be found.

The first paper, available on the arXiv here, entitled Preferential Growth Channel for Supermassive Black Holes in Elliptical Galaxies at z<2, and makes the argument that observations imply that supermassive black holes grow preferentially in elliptical galaxies:

The assembly of stellar and supermassive black hole (SMBH) mass in elliptical galaxies since z∼1 can help to diagnose the origins of locally-observed correlations between SMBH mass and stellar mass. We therefore construct three samples of elliptical galaxies, one at z∼0 and two at 0.7≲z≲2.5, and quantify their relative positions in the MBH−M∗ plane. Using a Bayesian analysis framework, we find evidence for translational offsets in both stellar mass and SMBH mass between the local sample and both higher redshift samples. The offsets in stellar mass are small, and consistent with measurement bias, but the offsets in SMBH mass are much larger, reaching a factor of seven between z∼1 and z∼0. The magnitude of the SMBH offset may also depend on redshift, reaching a factor of ∼20 at z∼2. The result is robust against variation in the high and low redshift samples and changes in the analysis approach. The magnitude and redshift evolution of the offset are challenging to explain in terms of selection and measurement biases. We conclude that either there is a physical mechanism that preferentially grows SMBHs in elliptical galaxies at z≲2, or that selection and measurement biases are both underestimated, and depend on redshift.

arXiv: 2212.06854

Note the important caveats at the end. I gather from people who work on this topic that it’s a rather controversial claim.

The second paper, entitled Observational evidence for cosmological coupling of black holes and its implications for an astrophysical source of dark energy and available on the arXiv here, discusses a mechanism by which it is claimed that the formation of black holes actually creates dark energy:

Observations have found black holes spanning ten orders of magnitude in mass across most of cosmic history. The Kerr black hole solution is however provisional as its behavior at infinity is incompatible with an expanding universe. Black hole models with realistic behavior at infinity predict that the gravitating mass of a black hole can increase with the expansion of the universe independently of accretion or mergers, in a manner that depends on the black hole’s interior solution. We test this prediction by considering the growth of supermassive black holes in elliptical galaxies over 0<z≲2.5. We find evidence for cosmologically coupled mass growth among these black holes, with zero cosmological coupling excluded at 99.98% confidence. The redshift dependence of the mass growth implies that, at z≲7, black holes contribute an effectively constant cosmological energy density to Friedmann’s equations. The continuity equation then requires that black holes contribute cosmologically as vacuum energy. We further show that black hole production from the cosmic star formation history gives the value of ΩΛ measured by Planck while being consistent with constraints from massive compact halo objects. We thus propose that stellar remnant black holes are the astrophysical origin of dark energy, explaining the onset of accelerating expansion at z∼0.7.


The first I saw of these papers was in a shockingly poor write-up in the Guardian which is so garbled that I dismissed the story out of hand. I recently saw it taken up in Physics World though so maybe there is something in it. Having scanned it quickly it doesn’t look trivially wrong as I had feared it would be.

I haven’t had much time to read papers over the last few weeks but I’ve decided to present the second paper – the more theoretical one – next time I do our cosmology journal club at Maynooth, which means I’ll have to read it! I’ll add my summary after I’ve done the Journal club on Monday afternoon.

In the meantime I was wondering what the general reaction in the cosmological community is to these papers, especially the second one. If anyone has strong views please feel free to put them in the comments box!

UPDATE: There is a counter-argument on the arXiv today.

The Euclid Public Website

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on February 2, 2023 by telescoper

With the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission now scheduled for launch in the 3rd Quarter of 2023 a lot of work has been put in recently in developing the Euclid mission’s public website. For those of you not in the know, there is a summary on the new website:

ESA’s Euclid mission is designed to explore the composition and evolution of the dark Universe. The space telescope will create a great map of the large-scale structure of the Universe across space and time by observing billions of galaxies out to 10 billion light-years, across more than a third of the sky. Euclid will explore how the Universe has expanded and how structure has formed over cosmic history, revealing more about the role of gravity and the nature of dark energy and dark matter.

The public website is can be found here. Check it out. Many more stories, pictures and videos will be added over the forthcoming weeks but in the mean time here is a taster animated movie that shows various elements of the Euclid spacecraft, including the telescope, payload module and solar panels.

Even more information about the science to be done with Euclid can be found on the Euclid Consortium website, which is being revamped ahead of the launch.

The Hubble Tension and Early Dark Energy

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on November 14, 2022 by telescoper

In recent times I’ve posted quite a few times about the Hubble Tension and possible resolutions thereof. I also had polls to gauge the level of tension among my readers, like this one

and this one:

I’m not sure if these are still working, though, as I think I’ve reached the number of votes allowed on the basic free version of crowdsignal that comes with the free version of WordPress. I refuse to pay for the enhanced version. I’m nothing if not cheap. You can however still see the votes so far.

Anyway, there is a new(ish) paper on the arXiv by Mark Kamionkowski and Adam Riess that presents a nice readable introduction to this topic. I’m still not convinced that the Hubble Tension is anything more than an observational systematic, but I think this is a good discussion of what it might be if it is more than that.

Here is the abstract:

Over the past decade, the disparity between the value of the cosmic expansion rate directly determined from measurements of distance and redshift or instead from the standard ΛCDM cosmological model calibrated by measurements from the early Universe, has grown to a level of significance requiring a solution. Proposed systematic errors are not supported by the breadth of available data (and “unknown errors” untestable by lack of definition). Simple theoretical explanations for this “Hubble tension” that are consistent with the majority of the data have been surprisingly hard to come by, but in recent years, attention has focused increasingly on models that alter the early or pre-recombination physics of ΛCDM as the most feasible. Here, we describe the nature of this tension, emphasizing recent developments on the observational side. We then explain why early-Universe solutions are currently favored and the constraints that any such model must satisfy. We discuss one workable example, early dark energy, and describe how it can be tested with future measurements. Given an assortment of more extended recent reviews on specific aspects of the problem, the discussion is intended to be fairly general and understandable to a broad audience.

Cosmological Constraints on Alternative Gravity Theories

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on July 11, 2022 by telescoper

The standard model of cosmology is based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In order to account for cosmological observations this has required the introduction of dark matter – which also helps explain the properties of individual galaxies – and dark energy. The result model, which I would describe as a working hypothesis, is rather successful but it is reasonable to question whether either or both of the dark components can be avoided by adopting an alternative theory of gravity instead of Einstein’s.

There is an interesting paper by Kris Pardo and David Spergel on arXiv that argues that none of the modifications of Einstein’s theory currently on the market is able to eliminate the need for dark matter. Here is the abstract of this paper:

It’s a more sophisticated version of an argument that has been going around at least in qualitative form for some time. The gist of it is that the distinctive pattern of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, observed by e.g. the Planck experiment, arise from coupling between baryons and photons in the early Universe. Similar features can be observed in the distribution of galaxies – where they are called Baryon Acoustic Oscilations (BAO) at a more recent cosmic epoch, but they are are much weaker. This is easily explicable if there is a dark matter component that dominates gravitational instability at late times but does not couple to photons via electromagnetic interactions. This is summed up in the following graphic (which I think I stole from a talk by John Peacock) based on data from about 20 years ago:

If there were no dark matter the coherent features seen in the power spectrum of the galaxy distribution would be much stronger; with dark matter dominating they are masked by the general growth of the collisionless component so their relative amplitude decreases.

The graphic shows how increasing the dark matter component from 0.1 to 0.3, while keeping the baryon component fixed, suppresses the wiggles corresponding to BAOs. The data suggest a dark matter contribution at the upper end of that range, consistent with the standard cosmology.

Of course if there are were no baryons at all there wouldn’t be fluctuations in either the CMB polarization or the galaxy distribution so both spectra would be smooth as shown in the graphic, but in that case there wouldn’t be anyone around to write about them as people are made of baryons.

This general conclusion is confirmed by the Pardo & Spergel paper, though it must be said that the argument doesn’t mean that modified gravity is impossible. It’s just that it seems nobody has yet thought of a specific model that satisfies all the constraints. That may change.

Cosmology Examination Results

Posted in Education, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 14, 2020 by telescoper

The examination season in Maynooth being now over, and the results having been issued, I thought I’d pass on the results not for individual students but for the Universe as a whole.

As you can see Dark Energy is top of the class, with a good II.1 (Upper Second Class). A few years ago this candidate looked likely to get a mark over 70% and thus get First Class Honours, but in the end fell just short. Given the steady performance and possible improvement in future I think this candidate will probably be one to reckon with in a future research career.

In second place, a long way behind on about 27%, is Dark Matter. This candidate only answered some of the questions asked, and those not very convincingly. Although reasonably strong on theory, the candidate didn’t show up at all in the laboratory. The result is a fail but there is an opportunity for a repeat at a future date, though there is some doubt as to whether the candidate would appear.

At the bottom of the class on a meagre 5% we find Ordinary Matter. It seems this candidate must have left the examination early and did not even give the correct name (baryons) on the script. Technically this one could repeat but even doing so is unlikely even to get an Ordinary Degree. I would suggest that baryons aren’t really cut out for cosmology and should make alternative plans for the future.


P.S. Photons and neutrinos ceased interacting with the course some time ago. Owing to this lack of engagement they are assumed to have dropped out, and their marks are not shown.





Varun Sahni on Dark Matter & Dark Energy

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on June 17, 2020 by telescoper

I’m very happy to be able to share a couple of lectures by esteemed cosmologist and erstwhile co-author Varun Sahni of the Inter University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, India. They’re at an introductory level appropriate for a summer school so I think quite a lot of students will find them interesting and informative!

Cosmology Talks – Clare Burrage on Chameleon Dark Energy

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another one of those Cosmology Talks curated on YouTube by Shaun Hotchkiss.

In this talk, Clare Burrage of Nottingham University explains how chameleon dark energy models can be very tightly constrained by laboratory scale experiments (as opposed to particle accelerators and space missions). Chameleon models were popular for dark energy because their non-linear potentials generically create screening mechanisms, which stop them generating a fifth force despite their coupling to matter, the net effect of which is to make them hard to detect on Earth. On the other hand , in a suitably precise atomic experiment the screening can be minimised and the effect of the Chameleon field measured. Such an experiment has been constructed, and it rules out almost all of the viable parameter space where a chameleon model can explain dark energy.

The paper that accompanies this talk can be found here and the talk is here:

Cosmology Talks – Colin Hill on Early Dark Energy

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another one of those Cosmology Talks curated on YouTube by Shaun Hotchkiss.

In the talk, Colin Hill explains how even though early dark energy can alleviate the Hubble tension, it does so at the expense of increasing other tension. Early dark energy can raise the predicted expansion rate inferred from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), by changing the sound horizon at the last scattering surface. However, the early dark energy also suppresses the growth of perturbations that are within the horizon while it is active. This mean that, in order to fit the CMB power spectrum the matter density must increase (and the spectral index becomes more blue tilted) and the amplitude of the matter power spectrum should get bigger. In their paper, Colin and his coauthors show that this affects the weak lensing measurements by DES, KiDS and HSC, so that including those experiments in a full data analysis makes things discordant again. The Hubble parameter is pulled back down, restoring most of the tension between local and CMB measurements of H0, and the tension in S_8 gets magnified by the increased mismatch in the predicted and measured matter power spectrum.

The overall moral of this story is the current cosmological models are so heavily constrained by the data that a relatively simple fix in one one part of the model space tends to cause problems elsewhere. It’s a bit like one of those puzzles in which you have to arrange all the pieces in a magic square but every time you move one bit you mess up the others.

The paper that accompanies this talk can be found here.

And here’s my long-running poll about the Hubble tension:


Voids, Galaxies and Cosmic Acceleration

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2020 by telescoper

Time for a quick plug for a paper by Nadathur et al. that appeared on the arXiv recently with the title Testing low-redshift cosmic acceleration with large-scale structure. Here is the abstract:

You can make it bigger by clicking on the image. You can download a PDF of the entire paper here.

The particularly interesting thing about this result is that it gives strong evidence for models with a cosmological constant (or perhaps some other form of dark energy), in a manner that is independent of the other main cosmological constraints (i.e. the Cosmic Microwave Background or Type 1a Supernovae). This constraint is based on combining properties of void regions (underdensities) with Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs) to produce constraints that are stronger than those obtained using BAOs on their own. The data used derives largely from the BOSS survey.

As well as this there’s another intriguing result, or rather two results. First is that the the BAO+voids data from redshifts z<2 gives H0 = 72.3 ± 1.9, while, on the other hand adding, BAO information from the Lyman-alpha forest for from z>2 gives a value H0 = 69 \pm 1.2, favouring Planck over Riess. Once again, the `tension’ over the value of the Hubble constant appears to be related to using nearby rather than distant sources.

Luminosity Evolution in Type 1a Supernovae?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 14, 2020 by telescoper

Figure 1 of Kang et al.

During this afternoon’s very exciting Meeting of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Maynooth University I suddenly remembered a paper I became aware of over Christmas but then forgot about. There’s an article here describing the paper that makes some pretty strong claims, which was what alerted me to it. The actual paper, by Kang et al., which has apparently been refereed and accepted for publication by the Astrophysical Journal, can be found on the arXiv here. The abstract reads:

The most direct and strongest evidence for the presence of dark energy is provided by the measurement of galaxy distances using type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia). This result is based on the assumption that the corrected brightness of SN Ia through the empirical standardization would not evolve with look-back time. Recent studies have shown, however, that the standardized brightness of SN Ia is correlated with host morphology, host mass, and local star formation rate, suggesting a possible correlation with stellar population property. In order to understand the origin of these correlations, we have continued our spectroscopic observations to cover most of the reported nearby early-type host galaxies. From high-quality (signal-to-noise ratio ~175) spectra, we obtained the most direct and reliable estimates of population age and metallicity for these host galaxies. We find a significant correlation between SN luminosity (after the standardization) and stellar population age at a 99.5% confidence level. As such, this is the most direct and stringent test ever made for the luminosity evolution of SN Ia. Based on this result, we further show that the previously reported correlations with host morphology, host mass, and local star formation rate are most likely originated from the difference in population age. This indicates that the light-curve fitters used by the SNe Ia community are not quite capable of correcting for the population age effect, which would inevitably cause a serious systematic bias with look-back time. Notably, taken at face values, a significant fraction of the Hubble residual used in the discovery of the dark energy appears to be affected by the luminosity evolution. We argue, therefore, that this systematic bias must be considered in detail in SN cosmology before proceeding to the details of the dark energy.

Of course evidence for significant luminosity evolution of Type Ia supernovae would throw a big spanner in the works involved in using these objects to probe cosmology (specifically dark energy), but having skimmed the paper I’m a bit skeptical about the results, largely because they seem to use only a very small number of supernovae to reach their conclusions and I’m not convinced about selection effects. I have an open mind, though, so I’d be very interested to hear through the comments box the views of any experts in this field.