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World’s top cosmologists assemble to question established view of the cosmos

Meeting at Royal Society of London will examine basic model first formulated in 1922 that cosmos is a vast even expanse with no notable features

If you zoomed out on the cosmos, well beyond the level of planets, stars or galaxies, you would ultimately see a vast, evenly speckled stretch with no notable features. At least, that has been the established view.The principle that everything looks the same everywhere is a central pillar of the standard model of cosmology, aim of which is to explain the big bang and how the cosmos has evolved in the 13.7bn years since.

But this week a convention of some of the world’s leading cosmologists will be held at London’s Royal Society to ask the question: what if this basic hypothesis is wrong?The meeting comes after quite a few high-profile astronomical observations have challenged the established view, according to Prof Subir Sarkar (a cosmologist at the University of Oxford and co-organiser of the meeting).“We are, in cosmology, using a model that was first formulated in 1922,” he stated. “We have great data, but the theoretical basis is past its sell-by date. More and more people are saying the same thing and these are respected astronomers.”

The conference brings together some of the researchers behind the recent anomalous findings. These include observations that suggest the cosmos is expanding more rapidly in some regions than others, hints at megastructures in the night sky and evidence for cosmic flows (vast celestial rivers of material on a scale that cannot be easily accommodated within conventional theories).

Dr Nathan Secrest (a collaborator with Sarkar from the US Naval Observatory) is presenting findings that strengthens the possibility that the cosmos is slightly lopsided. After analyzing a catalogue of over 1m quasars (extremely luminous galactic cores), the team discovered that one hemisphere of the sky appeared to host approximately 0.5% more sources than the other.It may not seem like a major discrepancy but, according to Sarkar, if established it would undermine the basis for dark energy, which is thought to be the dominant component of the cosmos. “It would mean that two-thirds of the universe has just disappeared,” Sarkar said.

Dr Konstantinos Migkas (Leiden University) will share findings that the Hubble constant (the rate at which the cosmos is expanding) appears to fluctuate across space. “Our results add another problematic piece to the puzzle,” Migkas stated. At a local scale, at least, this suggests that observations are not in sync with predictions of the standard model. “We can’t extrapolate that it’s wrong over the full universe,” he added.

Sarkar view is that belief in the standard model of cosmology has been so profoundly ingrained that it is treated as “the religion”. “I find that frankly annoying that this principle hasn’t been checked,” he stated. Although not everyone approves this characterization.Prof George Efstathiou (an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge), who is presenting a more skeptical take at the conference, said it was untrue that the model had not been repeatedly questioned. “People accuse me of defending the model,” he stated. “But what they don’t realise is how much time I’ve spent trying to disprove it. I completely disagree that’s there’s some kind of groupthink.”




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