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Einstein's "biggest blunder" beats dark energy in explaining expansion of the Universe


January 16, 2013

Hubble Ultra Deep Field, showing thousands of galaxies back to a time only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang (Image: NASA)

Hubble Ultra Deep Field, showing thousands of galaxies back to a time only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang (Image: NASA)

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It is dangerous to bet against Einstein. Cosmological research shows that the rate at which the Universe expands is increasing, rather than decreasing as had previously been thought. The concept of "dark energy" that provides a negative pressure within the structure of space was introduced to describe this acceleration. Now measurements of the proton to electron mass ratio (PEMR) over the past seven billion years strongly suggest that the common models of dark energy are far more contrived in explaining accelerating expansion than is Einstein's self-proclaimed "biggest blunder" – the cosmological constant.

The Standard Models of particle physics and of cosmology work surprisingly well. Some physicists would say distressingly well, as we are usually led toward new physics by the breaking down of our current understanding. Right now, however, there seem to be few experimental results that even hint there is new physics to be discovered.

History of the Universe from Big Bang through inflation to today's accelerating expansion (Image: NASA)

One possible direction to take the search for new physics is into the past. There are certain quantities, such as the PEMR, which are considered fundamental. The values of the fundamental constants determine the laws of physics – change the number, and the laws of physics change. The Standard Model does not allow the fundamental constants to change, so if a change were observed in the past, the strong implication would be that new physics is out there waiting to be studied.

In the last six years or so, techniques have been developed to measure the PEMR far into the past. Last month, a group of European astronomers made the most accurate measurement of this ratio to date, showing there has been no change in the PEMR larger than one part in ten million in the past seven billion years.

A quick detour into cosmology

Einstein published his theory of general relativity in 1915. In 1922, Alexander Friedmann found a cosmological solution to Einstein's equations, a solution that was the basis for today's relativistic cosmology. However, Friedmann's solution allowed for expanding and contracting universes. Einstein had a philosophical bias toward the Universe being static on a large scale, so he introduced his cosmological constant to allow static universes to exist. However, his static universe was unstable, and in 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered that our Universe is expanding. Einstein then dropped the cosmological constant, calling it his "biggest blunder."

Observations of supernovae in distant galaxies led to the 1988 conclusion that the expansion of the universe first observed by Hubble was accelerating. To explain this result, astrophysicists have invoked dark energy – a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space. Dark energy must have a negative pressure to produce the observed acceleration in the standard cosmological model, a rather bizarre notion suggesting that space repels itself.

(Un)-changing fundamental constants

Enter Professor Rodger Thompson of the University of Arizona's Astronomy department. He has been considering the effect of changes in the fundamental constants and how to observe such changes for nearly 40 years. Over the past six years or so, a number of highly precise measurements have been made of the change in the PEMR over cosmological times.

Thompson has recently been comparing the observed changes (or lack thereof, when error bars are included) of these proton-electron mass ratio observations with the parameters describing the application of dark energy models to a universe like our own. Now, based on a new and extremely accurate radio telescope study of PEMR variations, he announced at this month's American Astronomical Society meeting in California that virtually all models of dark energy also predict that the PEMR must change noticeably over cosmological times. As the observations show essentially no variation over a period of seven billion years, they exclude almost all of the common models of dark energy.

If the parameter space for acceptable dark energy models is displayed on a graph the size of a football field, the PEMR observations rule nearly the entire field out of bounds. There is a single credit card-sized region immediately surrounding the cosmological constant solution in which dark energy models could exist while producing so little variation in PEMR that they cannot be distinguished from Einstein's cosmological constant.

It would appear that Einstein's biggest blunder, which requires only one parameter to match the observed acceleration in the expansion of the Universe, is now leading the flock of models that purport to explain (or at least describe) accelerating expansion. Thompson expects that physicists and astronomers studying cosmology will adapt to the new field of play, but for now, "Einstein is in the catbird seat, waiting for everyone else to catch up."

Source: University of Arizona

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

Never just accept, investigate...

Michael Dijk

Einstein has always BEEN in the catbird seat waiting for everyone to catch up...!

Rey Candelaria

One step forwards Two steps back


I am not a physicist, nor an astronomer. I do wonder though, isn't dark energy just gravity?

Paul Anthony

re; Paul Anthony

After they added a bunch of mass nobody had ever seen to make their Big Bang theory work they had to add an anti-gravity energy to make the Big Bang with Dark Matter model work.


ok so black holes are the flush mechanism for our Universe, everything goes somewhere, so all that matter that goes through a black hole goes somewhere, how far does it look like a volcano the other side? does it spread out and form a 'wall' between our universe and the next? this means that every black hole could lead to another Universe so maybe one of them flushed and hey presto we got the crap matter which formed our little old Universe. Begs the question then of how many Universes there are or maybe all our black holes send matter out which gives our Universe a skin and time bends the matter back through into the big bang theory, so maybe we are all recycling matter every zillion years or so-who knows??


Can we take back the Nobel Prize they won last October for this BUNKO Voodo they put out, now that we know its wrong? Im starting a petition!!

Jason Woods

Does this mean that scientists now believe the universe might be static after all, as Einstein seemed to think, it was?


Maybe we're being sucked towards some other "dark ages" phenomena, rather than being pushed anyplace by omnipresent repellent stuff?


Do I understand this correctly? Any theory assuming a change in molecules over time is no longer valid. The only theory which can explain the expansion of the universe is the cosmological constant.


Perhaps what Hubble observed wasn't what he thought it was? Perhaps 42 was actually 1? Science is fantastic, yet sometimes it seems more a pursuit in theoretical fantasy. We see more theories and postulations than facts.


Ok, pay attention: Big E's Special relativity equation was only half finished. The other half is the further deterioration of mass into space. Space is not simply there, it is created an destroyed like all else. Beginning assumptions all need to be re-examined as any such starting point is misdirection. Between galaxies (mostly) and between stars (some) it gets too cold to sustain matter in form. As matter loses its kinetics it comes to a halt and falls apart, shedding mass particle now called Higgs. In the process the particles deteriorate into space at a ratio similar to that of energy from mass. A small percentage of this deterioration is converted to time but that is another subject (It can be created in the energy creation from mass as well). Where does energy go? It is presumed energy is always there but there is an awful lot of it out there hanging around flipping back and forth from matter to energy and back. That's your dark matter, space that was formerly absolute zero mass. Have fun with this. Or chuck it and waste another fifty years...

Tom DavisJr

If the Universe is expanding, WHAT is it expanding into? Space is part of the Universe and so it is not expanding into Space! If the Universe is contracting, WHAT remains where the Universe was? It is NOT space; space is part of the Universe.


Perhaps none have not considered the possibility that ALL universes are elliptical, from their point of origin/"Big Bang!" Much like the explosion/muzzle blast from a muzzle after the projectile has already accelerated out beyond the muzzle ... And don't forget the spin, due to the cosmic rifling .... Now picture a cosmos with, at least 12 universes, one from each direction of the 12 hours of a clock either heading toward some cosmic center - convergence, or each expanding from the cosmic center - explanation, and each overlapping and spiraling - cosmic rifling ... No better and/or no worse than a lot of those attempted explanations already put forth ... Now for the real nonsensical question: What is or was the caliber of the muzzle that started it all? Or perhaps the cosmos is just like a giant ocean with a whirlpool dead center, and millions of eddies all around that whirlpool. Everything old becomes new again, as all get sucked, eventually, deep down into that whirlpool, scattered in the deep, only to resurface again somewhere, sometime, distant from that whirlpool and its daughter eddies ....


re; Tom DavisJr

Space while cold is not at absolute zero we have gotten material well within one degree of absolute zero without apparently falling apart and shedding mass particle now called Higgs.


Coca's question is interesting. What is our universe expanding into? Maybe into an "existing outer-emptyness" which is there ready to receive it? And how far does this EOE extend? As far as other universes (see Semperfi-USMC) ? What would happen, should they meet? Would a new "super-universe" be born?


ray, to answer your question in part. What is the universe expanding into? Well no one knows. The real misconception is that the universe is like our world, round and we go from point a to b in a straight line, its not that simple. Our universe is more like the skin of a balloon, and everything is on the skin, as air is pumped into the balloon, the skin expands. Now imagine if people stood on the skin at various points as it expands, it would seem like everyone was getting further away. Now imagine I poke a finger into it from one end and another from opposite end to meet the first finger. Worm hole? So what is the universe expanding into and will it burst? Who knows, maybe it expands into dark matter itself. Its not something that can be proven, only theorized on. Personally, I think everything is warped, even what we think we see. Gravity bends light, so who's to say what we see is really what is there, most of it isn't anyway, as light travels at a known speed, much of what we see is the past and therefore has already happened and old news. 40 billion years is a long time, let's hope we figure out something given another 40 billion. Our sun will have swallowed this planet by then, so we'll need to at least have figured out faster than light travel, or we'll all be dead as a race.

Simon Comic Man

OK Simon Comic Man. You hit the universal nail on the pointy end. No body knows...anything. What's actually true is that The Wizard of Oz wasn't a farce.. The whole story was a hint given to us by the Wizard himself. He 'escaped' his balloon...which is actually our universe. As he ascends. his balloon, as does all balloons, expands .Abracadabra..our expanding universe. (Incidentally, it's not a uni-verse any more. It's expanded into an entire poem. It's now a unipoem.) And yes it will, as all balloons will, burst. What then? Only the Wizard knows! Makes as much, if not more, as all the other cock-eyed theories. Prove me wrong.


I like to use comparisons to understand concepts that can be hard to grasp. The way I understand dark matter is by comparing it to air bubbles encased in water. The bubbles creative negative pressure, which causes a perceived expansion of the water molecules. The same concept can be applied to the universe, and also helps explain the use of dark matter to create a warp field, as well as the ftl expansion after the big bang. So, dark matter in effect warps space-time and our perception of it's rate of movement. In other words, the universe is constant, until it isn't.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this.

Adam Boarman

Gee, what if Albert Einstein's, since proven, 'gravitational time dilation' theory were to account for the red shift observed, instead of the Doppler effect. Then there would be no need for these convoluted, ever changing (IK, there's money to be made), BS theories like dark mater/energy, and the big bang to account for the apparent 'accelerating' expansion of the universe.

...nuh, that wouldn't Be any fun.

Lawrence Mark

The universe is pulled to the outer edge and returns to the center thru hyperspace . If you go to the edge of the universe you will never return alive.

Stewart Mitchell

Time is not a constant. Time at the extremes of the Universe is different than at the center, where it all began. Time can be warped (no comments please Trekkies) and/or manipulated. We are just in the infancy of these Sciences but will soon come to realize the unlocked potential that is out there.

The question is, will we use it appropriately or destroy ourselves in the process?


The universe is energy, matter, space. Matter expands into space using energy. Therefore the 'verse is not expanding, just everything in it. And the expansion may start to slow when energy is used up. The 'verse may vibrate endlessly growing infinitely large - infinitely small - infinitely - large

Don Duncan

The observation of type Ia supernovae showed that the cosmological redshift of distant galaxies does not comply with the calculations on the basis of the Doppler effect (the Big Bang theory) and is subject to exponential law of damped oscillations, where the Hubble constant represents parameter of the attenuation electromagnetic oscillations. That is to say that Hubble constant - is quantum amount by which photon's frequency decreases in one period of oscillation. To determine by how much the frequency of the photon has decreased, the Hubble constant must be multiplied by the number of the committed oscillations that is completely consistent with the results obtained by the modern method of "standard candles" (Nobel Prize 2011). A report in the MSU "Hubble's quantum law" (13.03.2013): http://alemanow.narod.ru/hubbles.htm

Sergey Alemanov
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