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View Full Version : Book Review: Echo of the Big Bang



Fraser
2005-Sep-30, 05:38 PM
SUMMARY: According to Genesis, 'First there was light.'. According to scientists, this initial light is still about us, shining down from the heavens. Not only does it shine, it's red-shifted, and, depending on its composition, it indicates whether the universe is static, expanding or contracting. All we need do is detect this light to learn about our origin. This is the story in Michael Lemonick's book Echo of the Big Bang. In particular, he tells the tale of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), its place in remote sensing and its role in cosmology. From it, we learn a little more about the first light and we know it is good.

View full article (http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/book_review_echo_big_bang.html)
What do you think about this story? post your comments below.

Jerry
2005-Oct-03, 07:23 PM
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon your point of view, an solar elliptical contamination has been certified in the WMAP 1st year data. Without addressing this contamination, without known what is causing it, or how deeply it penetrates the WMAP power spectrum, the echo is about as valid as listening to the ocean in a sea shell.

ToSeek
2005-Oct-03, 07:39 PM
Inappropriate posts by moonglow and ArgoNavis have been removed. Both should understand that banning is possible if they make any more inappropriate posts.

folkhemmet
2005-Oct-11, 09:13 PM
What do I think of this story? I think the book Echo of the Big Bang provides a good overview of both the science and technology related to the WMAP mission. Having said that, the WMAP mission is turning out to be, for lack of a better phrase, somewhat of a tragedy.

The first year results were greeted with enormous adulation by the scientific establishment and they received a lot of media attention. Some of the WMAP first year scientific papers are among the most heavily cited works in all of space science. There was and is much talk of how the WMAP data have propelled us into the realm of ‘precision cosmology’ and how we now have a solid description of the evolution of the universe’s large scale structure over the past 13.7 billion years. Oh yeah, contained within almost every cosmology article I’ve read for both technical and popular audiences is that figure for the age of the universe. The mission is not panning out. No new data have been released since the initial data release almost 3 years ago. Moreover, as Mr. Jensen points out, there is growing evidence that the data contain fatal flaws which may change the cosmological conclusions reported in the 'spectacular' February 2003 papers. Even more troubling: since the WMAP data have been used in a plethora of other cosmological and astrophysical analyses over the past few years the possibly fatal errors will propagate through much of astronomy!

The book was not just a science book, as it described the lives and emotions of the scientists involved in the mission. The brilliant cosmologists involved in the mission are right now probably figuring out how they can salvage their professional reputations by undergoing the painful process of admitting they are wrong (to themselves) and figuring out how to explain (to the rest of us) what went wrong.

If I had to speculate, history will look unfavorably at the WMAP mission. The ESA Planck Surveyor mission will be a 10-fold improvement over WMAP. This European mission is due to launch in less than two years and assuming all goes well with it its scientific product should be released around 2010. Because Planck should be a substantial improvement over WMAP the ESA probe’s results will eclipse and make any future data releases by WMAP seem irrelevant. Therefore, unfortunately, the past few years of WMAP data-taking and the four more years of WMAP data-taking approved by NASA may turn out to be a waste of tax-payer dollars. Why? Because WMAP is supposed to provide us with high-quality data prior to the launch of Planck; it has only given us a year of data of questionable quality. Look at it this way, would it have made sense to delay the release of the COBE data until after February 2003? I think not. That would be ridiculous.

Anyway, it was not my intention to disappoint people with what I said above. I hope I am wrong about WMAP. It would be nice if the science team released the new data and answered some of the sticky questions raised about the anomalies in the first year data. If not, I wonder if Mr. Lemonick will write another chapter?

Fortunate
2005-Oct-12, 04:11 AM
Having said that, the WMAP mission is turning out to be, for lack of a better phrase, somewhat of a tragedy.

A tragedy is when someone dies. Life is not a tragedy.


Even more troubling: since the WMAP data have been used in a plethora of other cosmological and astrophysical analyses over the past few years the possibly fatal errors will propagate through much of astronomy!

Doctors sometimes make fatal errors. Cosmologists don't (at least not in their professional capacities).


The brilliant cosmologists involved in the mission are right now probably figuring out how they can salvage their professional reputations by undergoing the painful process of admitting they are wrong (to themselves) and figuring out how to explain (to the rest of us) what went wrong.

Being wrong is no big deal. People who don't admit their mistakes never really know themselves; never really appreciate how beautiful they are. No point kidding yourself.

folkhemmet
2005-Oct-12, 03:47 PM
Hi Fortunate,

Tragedy does imply death, but sometimes the word is used simply to imply a distressing or unfortunate incident or event. It will certainly be distressing and it will be the cause for enormous professional embarrassment if the WMAP team continues to delay the release of their data and eventually it is proved that they made serious mistakes in either their interpretation or their analysis of the CMB data.

Actually there are multiple definitions for the word fatal. Here is one of the definitions which I was using to describe the errors which may spell ruin for the conclusions reached by scientists using the WMAP data in their research.

Causing ruin or destruction; disastrous: “Such doctrines, if true, would be absolutely fatal to my theory” (Charles Darwin).

Being wrong is no big deal? It shouldn't be. Progress is usually made interpersonally, intrapersonally, and scientifically when people admit they are wrong. Most of the time, however, most people hate being wrong and the more work one puts into a project one will likely be even more reluctant to admit one is wrong. The history of science is filled with examples of people who stubbornly clinging to incorrect views of how nature operates. Some people still believe the earth is flat i.e. the Flat Earth Society. My point is that the sooner the WMAP team releases new data and at least try to resolve the sticky questions concerning the first year data the better it will be for the field of cosmology as well as their professional reputations.

No point kidding yourself by pretending that there is no gap between the theory and the practice of admitting you are wrong.

Fortunate
2005-Oct-12, 06:33 PM
folkhemmet, I really haven't been tuning in to the progress of the second release of WMAP data. I understand that they are taking their time about it. I had supposed that that was because they were attempting to be meticulous. I think the difficulty lies in subtracting out intervening influences.

In any case, we will have that data regardless of the current outcome, and I anticipate that other groups will subsequently perform their own analyses. The investigation of the microwave part of the spectrum fascinates me. The WMAP data will remain a complement to the Planck data, which, I believe, includes some other wavelengths as well as much better resolution.

I'm not overly concerned about peoples' reputations. I think that we all need to find contentment within ourselves rather than through a reflection of the apparently capricious opinions of others.