Archive for Gravitational Lensing

More Cosmic Tension?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2019 by telescoper

Quite a lot of fuss was being made in cosmological circles while I was away last week concerning a paper that had just been published in Nature Astronomy by Eleonora Di Valentino, Alessandro Melchiorri and Joe Silk that claims evidence from the Planck Cosmic Microwave background and other data that the Universe might be closed (or at least have positive spatial curvature) in contrast to the standard cosmological model in which the spatial geometry is Euclidean. Nature Astronomy is behind a paywall but the paper is available for free on the arXiv here. The abstract reads:

The recent Planck Legacy 2018 release has confirmed the presence of an enhanced lensing amplitude in CMB power spectra compared to that predicted in the standard ΛCDM model. A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect, with the Planck CMB spectra now preferring a positive curvature at more than 99% C.L. Here we further investigate the evidence for a closed universe from Planck, showing that positive curvature naturally explains the anomalous lensing amplitude and demonstrating that it also removes a well-known tension within the Planck data set concerning the values of cosmological parameters derived at different angular scales. We show that since the Planck power spectra prefer a closed universe, discordances higher than generally estimated arise for most of the local cosmological observables, including BAO. The assumption of a flat universe could, therefore, mask a cosmological crisis where disparate observed properties of the Universe appear to be mutually inconsistent. Future measurements are needed to clarify whether the observed discordances are due to undetected systematics, or to new physics, or simply are a statistical fluctuation.

I think the important point to take from this study is that estimates of cosmological parameters obtained from Planck are relatively indirect, in that they involve the simultaneous determination of several parameters some of which are almost degenerate. For example, the `anomalous’ lensing amplitude discussed in this paper is degenerate with the curvature so that changing one could mimic the effect on observables of changing the other; see Figure 2 in the paper.

It’s worth mentioning another (and, in my opinion, better argued) paper on a similar topic by Will Handley of Cambridge which is on the arXiv here. The abstract of this one reads:

The curvature parameter tension between Planck 2018, cosmic microwave background lensing, and baryon acoustic oscillation data is measured using the suspiciousness statistic to be 2.5 to 3σ. Conclusions regarding the spatial curvature of the universe which stem from the combination of these data should therefore be viewed with suspicion. Without CMB lensing or BAO, Planck 2018 has a moderate preference for closed universes, with Bayesian betting odds of over 50:1 against a flat universe, and over 2000:1 against an open universe.

Figure 1 makes a rather neat point that the combination of Planck and Baryon Acoustic Oscillations does not separately give consistent values for the Hubble constant and the curvature and neither does the combination of Planck and direct Hubble constant estimates:

I don’t know what the resolution of these tensions is, but I think it is a bit dangerous to dismiss them simply as statistical flukes. They might be that, of course, but they also might not be. By shrugging one’s shoulders and ignoring such indications one might miss something very fundamental. On the other hand, in my opinion, there is nothing here that definitely points the finger at spatial curvature either: it is possible that there is something else missing from the standard model that, if included, would resolve these tensions. But what is the missing link?

Answers on a postcard, or through the comments box.

Gravitational Lensing, Cosmological Distances and the Hubble Constant

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 17, 2019 by telescoper

To continue the ongoing Hubble constant theme, there is an interesting paper on the arXiv by Shajib et al. about determining a distance to a gravitational lens system; I grabbed the above pretty picture from the paper.

The abstract is:

 

You can click on this to make it bigger. You will see that this approach gives a `high’ value of H0 ≈ 74.2, consistent with local stellar distances measures, rather than with the `cosmological’ value which comes in around H0 ≈ 67 or so. It’s also consistent with the value derived from other gravitational lens studies discussed here.

Here’s my ongoing poll on the Hubble constant, with

 

 

New Publication at the Open Journal of Astrophysics!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2019 by telescoper

I was a bit busy yesterday doing a number of things, including publishing a new paper at The Open Journal of Astrophysics, but I didn’t get time to write a post about it until now. Anyway, here is how the new paper looks on the site:

The authors are Tom Kitching, Paniez Paykari and Mark Cropper of the Mullard Space Sciences Laboratory (of University College London) and Henk Hoekstra of Leiden Observatory.

You can find the accepted version on the arXiv here. This version was accepted after modifications requested by the referee and editor. Because this is an overlay journal the authors have to submit the accepted version to the arXiv (which we then check against the copy submitted to us) before publishing. We actually have a bunch of papers that we have accepted but are awaiting the appearance of the final version on the arXiv so we can validate it.

Anyway, this is another one for the `Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics’ folder. We would be happy to get more submissions from other areas of astrophysics. Hint! Hint!

P.S. Just a reminder that we now have an Open Journal of Astrophysics Facebook page where you can follow updates from the Journal should you wish..

Hubble’s Constant – A Postscript on w

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on July 15, 2019 by telescoper

Last week I posted about new paper on the arXiv (by Wong et al.) that adds further evidence to the argument about whether or not the standard cosmological model is consistent with different determinations of the Hubble Constant. You can download a PDF of the full paper here.

Reading the paper through over the weekend I was struck by Figure 6:

This shows the constraints on H0 and the parameter w which is used to describe the dark energy component. Bear in mind that these estimates of cosmological parameters actually involve the simultaneous estimation of several parameters, six in the case of the standard ΛCDM model. Incidentally, H0 is not one of the six basic parameters of the standard model – it is derived from the others – and some important cosmological observations are relatively insensitive to its value.

The parameter w is the equation of state parameter for the dark energy component so that the pressure p is related to the energy density ρc2 via p=wρc2. The fixed value w=-1 applies if the dark energy is of the form of a cosmological constant (or vacuum energy). I explained why here. Non-relativistic matter (dominated by rest-mass energy) has w=0 while ultra-relativistic matter has w=1/3.

Applying the cosmological version of the thermodynamic relation for adiabatic expansion  “dE=-pdV” one finds that ρ ∼ a-3(1+w) where a is the cosmic scale factor. Note that w=-1 gives a constant energy density as the Universe expands (the cosmological constant); w=0 gives ρ ∼ a-3, as expected for `ordinary’ matter.

As I already mentioned, in the standard cosmological model w is fixed at  w=-1 but if it is treated as a free parameter then it can be added to the usual six to produce the Figure shown above. I should add for Bayesians that this plot shows the posterior probability assuming a uniform prior on w.

What is striking is that the data seem to prefer a very low value of w. Indeed the peak of the likelihood (which determines the peak of the posterior probability if the prior is flat) appears to be off the bottom of the plot. It must be said that the size of the black contour lines (at one sigma and two sigma for dashed and solid lines respectively) suggests that these data aren’t really very informative; the case w=-1 is well within the 2σ contour. In other words, one might get a slightly better fit by allowing the equation of state parameter to float, but the quality of the fit might not improve sufficiently to justify the introduction of another parameter.

Nevertheless it is worth mentioning that if it did turn out, for example, that w=-2 that would imply ρ ∼ a+3, i.e. an energy density that increases steeply as a increases (i.e. as the Universe expands). That would be pretty wild!

On the other hand, there isn’t really any physical justification for cases with w<-1 (in terms of a plausible model) which, in turn, makes me doubt the reasonableness of imposing a flat prior. My own opinion is that if dark energy turns out not to be of the simple form of a cosmological constant then it is likely to be too complicated to be expressed in terms of a single number anyway.

 

Postscript to this postscript: take a look at this paper from 2002!

Hubble’s Constant – The Tension Mounts!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 12, 2019 by telescoper

There’s a new paper on the arXiv (by Wong et al.) that adds further evidence to the argument about whether or not the standard cosmological model is consistent with different determinations of the Hubble Constant. The abstract is here:

You can download a PDF of the full paper here.

You will that these measurements, based on observations of time delays in multiply imaged quasars that have been  gravitationally lensed, give higher values of the Hubble constant than determinations from, e.g., the Planck experiment.

Here’s a nice summary of the tension in pictorial form:

And here are some nice pictures of the lensed quasars involved in the latest paper:

 

It’s interesting that these determinations seem more consistent with local distance-scale approaches than with global cosmological measurements but the possibility remains of some unknown systematic.

Time, methinks, to resurrect my long-running poll on this!

Please feel free to vote. At the risk of inciting Mr Hine to clog up my filter with further gibberish,  you may also comment through the box below.

 

The Shadow of an Event Horizon

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2019 by telescoper

There is a paper on the arXiv written about 5 years ago called Towards the event horizon – the supermassive black hole in the Galactic Center by Falcke and Markoff, the abstract of which reads:

The center of our Galaxy hosts the best constrained supermassive black hole in the universe, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). Its mass and distance have been accurately determined from stellar orbits and proper motion studies, respectively, and its high-frequency radio, and highly variable near-infrared and X-ray emission originate from within a few Schwarzschild radii of the event horizon. The theory of general relativity (GR) predicts the appearance of a black hole shadow, which is a lensed image of the event horizon. This shadow can be resolved by very long baseline radio interferometry and test basic predictions of GR and alternatives thereof. In this paper we review our current understanding of the physical properties of Sgr A*, with a particular emphasis on the radio properties, the black hole shadow, and models for the emission and appearance of the source. We argue that the Galactic Center holds enormous potential for experimental tests of black hole accretion and theories of gravitation in their strong limits.

Please note that the black hole in the centre of the giant elliptical galaxy M87 is about 1000 times further away from us than the black hole in the centre of the Milky Way but is also about 1000 times more massive, so its Schwarzschild radius is 1000 times larger. The observational challenge of imaging the event horizon is therefore similar in the two cases.

You may find this useful if, by sheer coincidence, there is some big announcement tomorrow..

Blog Paper

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 12, 2016 by telescoper

I don’t often blog about my own research. To be honest that’s partly because I don’t get much time to do any. Fortunately, however, I have an excellent postdoctoral research assistant (Dipak) and some excellent collaborators. Anyway, I just heard yesterday that the following paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics (JCAP):

Munshi

It’s not exactly a light read – it’s 32 pages long – but at least it gives the non-cosmology readers of this blog an idea of my research interests. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can apply techniques such as those described in the above paper to real data!

Hopefully also in future I’ll be able to persuade my co-authors to submit to the Open Journal of Astrophysics!