Monday, March 20, 2006

Top this one, creationists.

I'd like to see the Kansas Board of Education explain this in their Intelligent Design curriculum.


Scientists peering back to the oldest light in the universe have new evidence to support the concept of inflation. The concept poses the universe expanded many trillion times its size in less than a trillionth of a second at the outset of the big bang.

This finding, made with NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), is based on three years of continuous observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow light produced when the universe was less than a million years old.

WMAP polarization data allow scientists to discriminate between competing models of inflation for the first time. This is a milestone in cosmology. "We can now distinguish between different versions of what happened within the first trillionth of a second of the universe," said WMAP Principal Investigator Charles Bennett of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "The longer WMAP observes, the more it reveals about how our universe grew from microscopic quantum fluctuations to the vast expanses of stars and galaxies we see today."

Previous WMAP results focused on the temperature variations of this light, which provided an accurate age of the universe and insights into its geometry and composition. The new WMAP observations give not only a more detailed temperature map, but also the first full-sky map of the polarization of the CMB. This major breakthrough will enable scientists to obtain much deeper insight into what happened within the first trillionth of a second of the universe. The WMAP results have been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal and are posted at

Big bang physics describes how matter and energy developed over the last 13.7 billion years. WMAP's observation of the blanket of cool microwave radiation that permeates the universe shows patterns that mark the seeds of what grew into stars and galaxies. The patterns are tiny temperature differences within this extraordinarily uniform light. WMAP discerns temperature fluctuations at levels finer than a millionth of a degree.

WMAP can resolve features in the cosmic microwave background based on polarization, or the way light is changed by the environment through which it passes. For example, sunlight reflecting off of a shiny object is polarized. Comparing the brightness of broad features to compact features in the microwave background, or afterglow light, helps tell the story of the infant universe. One long-held prediction was the brightness would be the same for features of all sizes. In contrast, the simplest versions of inflation predict the relative brightness decreases as the features get small, a trend seen in the new data.

"This is brand new territory," said WMAP team member Lyman Page of Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. "The polarization data will become stronger as WMAP continues to observe the microwave background. WMAP's new results heighten the urgency of seeking out inflation's gravitational wave sign. If gravitational waves are seen in future measurements, that would be solid evidence for inflation."

With a richer temperature map and the new polarization map, WMAP data favor the simplest versions of inflation. Generically, inflation posits that, at the outset of the big bang, quantum fluctuations - short-lived bursts of energy at the subatomic level - were converted by the rapid inflationary expansion into fluctuations of matter that ultimately enabled stars and galaxies to form. The simplest versions of inflation predict that the largest-sized fluctuations will also be the strongest. The new results from WMAP favor this signature.

Inflation theory predicts that these same fluctuations also produced primordial gravitational waves whose distortion of space-time leaves a signature in the CMB polarization. This will be an important goal of future CMB measurements which, if found, would provide a stunning confirmation of inflation.

"Inflation was an amazing concept when it was first proposed 25 years ago, and now we can support it with real data," said WMAP team member Gary Hinshaw of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

WMAP, a partnership between Goddard and Princeton, was launched on June 30, 2001. The WMAP team includes researchers in U.S. and Canadian universities and institutes. For images and information on the Web about WMAP, visit:


Blogger Jeff said...

Teofilo and I were having a conversation about the epistemological issues related to this a few weeks ago: physicists' understanding of the universe has now reached a point--what with multiverses, planck lengths, warped space-time, quantum fluctuations, etc.--that is so far beyond what 99.9% of people are able to comprehend, that you have to ask yourself, What is the qualitative difference between an IDer's belief in his cosmological theory (I use IDer rather than creationist in this case because I think a creationist's refusal to accept evolutionary theory, for example, is a product of ideology rather than an inability to to comprehend the principles of the theory), and that of a layperson with a scientific worldview? Both are placing faith in the pronouncements of their leaders, but neither can really claim to have a scientific understanding of the underlying principles.

I think there are good (from my perspective) responses to this, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

4:44 PM  
Blogger RaginCajun said...

The physics news posted is fascinating, but I don't see how it fundamentally affects ID or creationist arguments. Science and rationality have kept chipping away at what supernaturalists have claimed to be able to explain for a long time. Supernaturalists have had a tendency over the millenia to claim for the deity or the supernatural whatever was not nailed down by science. I think it was one of the pre-Socratics that made this observation over 2500 years ago (Jeff, no doubt, could remind me which one this was).

As for Jeff's question, my stab at is that the process within science is at least somewhat self-correcting, it has a track record, and also gives us neat technology that allows us to blog. Prayer doesn't have any of those qualities.

10:18 PM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

Hello Sampras,

We were discussing at the Pub Quiz a Kang and Kodos open, and if I cannot convince you to be a Christian, I will have to hit tennis balls to parts of the court that you cannot get to. Me not smart, me drag nuckles, but me learn play with fire and hit green ball. Green ball good.

I cannot speak well to material I cannot understand. I can say that I grow weary of hearing it said that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and then it's 6 billion years old, and then we really know it's 12 billion years old. And then I hear that we've gradually developed into these hairless bipeds over billions of years, and then I hear the fossil record shows considerabley quick movements, so paleontologists tell us that punctuated equilibrium must exist, but then others say that's bogus, and yet WE KNOW IT CANNOT BE GOD!

I don't buy it, Pete. I will quickly grant that I know nothing about "inflation" (although I have been gaining some weight), but I when I consider the fields in which I do know something about, revisionism and academic license abound. I'm not sure there aren't any giant leaps of faith going on in the article.

7:04 AM  

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