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Posts Tagged 'Astronomy'



The Carnival of Cosmology: Bloggers on Dark Energy

Supernova SN1994d, the type of supernova first used to measure the acceleration of the Universe. (Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Key Project/High-Z Supernova Search)

Welcome to the first Carnival of Cosmology! (Well, it’s the first I know of, so we’ll say it’s true.) In the spirit of blog carnivals, several of us—cosmologists, physicists, astronomers, and writers who just love all these subjects—decided to write about one of the abiding mysteries of modern cosmology. That mystery is dark energy, the name we give to the accelerated expansion of the Universe. The submissions to the carnival cover some of the basics and some of the hard questions; I’ll list the posts in a kind of logical order, in hopes of constructing a coherent narrative. (The links to the posts themselves are in bold, while links to other materials are in normal format.)

Dark Energy is Real…

  • Ethan Siegel (of the blog Starts With a Bang) contributed two posts, though admittedly his first was an update of a old post. However, that post serves as a great introduction to the Carnival, complete with a Boromir meme: he tells the story of how he started as a dark energy skeptic, but was brought around by the overwhelming evidence. (I’m sure many of us could tell similar tales—I know I could!)
  • Kelly Oakes (of Basic Space) interviewed Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, one of the astronomers who discovered dark energy in 1998. His story is a fascinating one, again highlighting how the observational evidence forced him to accept cosmic acceleration. However, the interview also brings up an important point: dark energy solved some of the outstanding problems in cosmology, including the huge amount of missing energy required to make other observations consistent.
  • Astronomy writer Desiree Abbott (AKA Ms. Disarray) explains why white dwarf supernovas are an excellent way to measure the rate of cosmic expansion, including acceleration. Her post is an excellent introduction to the concept of “standard candles”, astronomical objects whose intrinsic brightness is either known or can be determined in a straightforward way.
  • Sacha Vongehr (of the blog Alpha Meme) examines some of the reasons why people might reject dark energy, including psychological factors, then argues for the reasonableness of including dark energy through analogy with a simple (and possibly familiar) physical system. (In my opinion, he understates the case for dark matter, but since that’s a kind of a brief mention in his post, I won’t pick a fight with him now!)

…But What Is it?

  • Katie Mack (the only one of this crowd to be featured in PhD Comics, as far as I know) delves into what we know about dark energy and how it constrains some of our kookier theoretical ideas. Specifically, she provides some reassurance against one of the scarier scenarios (known as the “Big Rip”) that’s been promoted around the internet recently.
  • On a similar note, Ethan Siegel’s main contribution to the carnival answers many of his readers’ questions about dark energy: what it could be, and why some of the language used to describe it sometimes works against our understanding.
  • My own contribution (’cause I’m long-winded) covers a lot of the same ground as the other writers: what we know and don’t know about dark energy, but also some ideas about how to distinguish between the various explanations.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Carnival! I hope you all enjoyed reading the contributions as much as I did, and let’s keep this going.

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