James Webb Space Telescope Shows The Big Bang Didn’t Happen?  Wait…

James Webb Space Telescope Shows The Big Bang Didn’t Happen? Wait…

James Webb Space Telescope Shows The Big Bang Didn’t Happen? Wait…

This story was #1 in 2022 Mind Matters news in terms of reader numbers. As we approach the new year, we recap the top ten stories of 2022, based on reader interest. In ‘James Webb, Space Telescope shows Big Bang didn’t happen? Wait…,” our News section looked at reports that the unexpected new data coming back from the telescope caused panic among astronomers: Webb would only confirm the standard model of the universe, but the images are “surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old.” (August 13, 2022)

Our position at the time: 1) Unsurprisingly, the Webb refuted some commonly held assumptions. New vistas do. In fact, that’s how we know for sure that it has left the launch pad. 😉 2) The panic was probably overdone. The big news for 2022 is a much closer look at exoplanets, our solar system’s moons, and a variety of unusual stellar formations. 3) Disputes over the Big Bang will stay with us for a long time anyway, because it’s partly a metaphysical problem.

Although we usually didn’t hear about it, there was dissatisfaction with the standard model, which starts with the big bang, since it was first proposed by George Lemaitre almost a century ago. But nobody expected it James Webb Space Telescope to contribute to the debate.

Physicist Eric J. Lerner comes to the point:

For anyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising – not at all what theory predicted. In the stream of technical astronomy papers published online since July 12, the authors report time and time again that the images show a surprising number of galaxies, galaxies that are surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old. Lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. The title of a paper begins with the candid exclamation, “Panic!”

Why are the images from the JWST causing panic among cosmologists? And which predictions of the theory do they contradict? The newspapers don’t actually say it. The truth these papers fail to report is that the hypothesis that the JWST’s images blatantly and repeatedly contradict is the big bang hypothesis that the universe began 14 billion years ago in an incredibly hot, dense state and has been expanding ever since. Since that hypothesis has been defended as undeniable truth for decades by the vast majority of cosmological theorists, the new data is causing these theorists to panic. “Right now I find myself lying awake at 3 a.m.,” says Alison Kirkpatrick, an astronomer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, “wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong.” [Update: Kirkpatrick has protested Lerner’s handling of this quotation. See Note below.]

Eric J. LernerThe big bang didn’t happen” Bee IAI.TV (August 11, 2022)

Now Lerner is the author of a book called The big bang never happened (1992) but – while that makes him an interested party – it doesn’t mean he’s wrong. He will speak at the How the light enters festival in London (17–18 September 2022), sponsored by the Institute for Art and Ideas (IAI), as a participant in the “Cosmology and the Great Failure” debate.

James Webb Space Telescope Shows The Big Bang Didn’t Happen?  Wait…

The upcoming debate, in which philosophers of science can be seen Bjorn Ekeberg and Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, along with Lerner, is supposed as follows:

The big bang theory relies crucially on the “inflation” hypothesis that the universe initially expanded many orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light. But experiments have provided no evidence for cosmic inflation, and since the theory’s inception it has been beset by deep puzzles. Paul Steinhardt, now a founding member, has denounced the theory as incorrect and “scientifically meaningless.”

Should we abandon the theory of cosmic inflation and look for a radical alternative? Could alternative theories such as the Big Bounce or giving up the speed of light offer a solution? Or are such alternatives just Band-Aids to avoid the more radical conclusion that it’s time to give up on the Big Bang altogether?

Here’s a debate on this general topic from last year’s festival (but without JWST data). It features theoretical physicist Sabine Hoessenfelder, author of Lost in math: How beauty leads physics astray, together with Ekeberg and particle physicist Sam Henry.

So yes, it’s been a serious topic of discussion for a while now. What about Eric Lerner’s approach? Experimental physicist Robert Sheldon offered Mind Matters news some thoughts and a possible solution:

Current thinking is that the Big Bang Nucleosynthesis era produced 75% hydrogen and 25% helium (by weight) and a little lithium, but not much else. Then, after 300,000 years, the universe cooled enough to produce atoms, and the pull of gravity slowly, slowly built up stars. The early ones were big enough to explode, and the shock waves sent by the hydrogen gas created cavities that started making stars in earnest. But it still took 500 million years to get enough stars for a galaxy. The earlier a galaxy formed, the further back in time and the farther it is from astronomers today, and the farther away it is, the faster it moves away from us. This movement shifts the light red. This relationship is so robust that astronomers replace ‘time’ with ‘redshift’. But the Hubble Space Telescope could only see visible light, and those early galaxies were so redshifted they were only “visible” in the infrared, which is where the James Webb telescope shines. So one of the goals of the James Webb telescope was to see the earliest galaxies, and sure enough, they see a lot of them.

What does this mean for the standard model?

Theorists have an answer. Lots of clumpy dark matter to clump the hydrogen gas early. Which leads to the question, “Why isn’t the dark matter lumpy now?”

I don’t have the stamina to run down every bunny path cosmologists suggest. Instead, I propose that the first stars were made not of hydrogen, but of ice. The Big Bang synthesized abundant C and O which combined with H to form H2O, CO2, CH4 etc. These gases freeze relatively early in the universe’s time frame, so clumping was not gravitational but physico-chemical, the same way snowflakes form. So we didn’t have to wait 500 million years for snowflakes to clump together, it happened very quickly once the universe cooled below freezing. Hence, James Webb sees many redshifted galaxies from the early universe.

The article on that (and perhaps the prediction of what James Webb would find?) is in my free access paper in Communications from the Blythe Institute in 2021.

That is one possible solution. We know it’s science when it always presents challenges.

This is sometimes discussed: could the universe have existed forever? The problem is that if the universe had existed for an infinite amount of time, everything that could possibly happen must have already happened an infinite number of times – including that we don’t exist and never have existed. But we know we exist. As Robert J Marks has noted, play fast with infinite play results in absurdity. To do science, we have to accept that some events are real and not mutually contradictory. So we can assume that the universe started, but we are now a little less sure how that happened.

Remark: After Lerner’s article, Kirkpatrick moved on her Twitter account to protest against it Lerner misrepresented her statement until Nature about her “wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong.” Her current Twitter account name makes clear her take on a cosmic beginning: “Allison the Big Bang happened in Kirkpatrick.” Then what does she wonder? From the drift of the Nature article it seems to be subsidiary theories within the larger Big-Bang tent – for example, theories about the evolution of galaxies and, as she says, “the rate at which star formation occurs.” It’s clear that JWST has raised as many questions as it has answered – some quite intense.

You may also want to read: Have physicists opened a portal to additional time dimension, as claimed? That’s the story at Scientific American. But experimental physicist Rob Sheldon isn’t so quick to say… The physicists who constructed “time crystals” happened to have an error correction technique for quantum computers. The rest is the story we would all like to be in.

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