[Note: This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis. DLH]
Stephen Hawking And 32 Top Physicists Just Signed a Heated Letter on The Universe’s Origin
Sh*t just got real.
By FIONA MACDONALD
May 12 2017
For centuries, people have puzzled over how our Universe began. But the heat just got turned way up on a debate that’s quietly been raging between cosmologists, with 33 of the world’s most famous physicists publishing a letter angrily defending one of the leading hypotheses we have for the origin of the Universe.
The letter is in response to a Scientific American feature published back in February, in which three physicists heavily criticised inflation theory – the idea that the Universe expanded just like a balloon shortly after the Big Bang. The article went as far as claiming that the model “cannot be evaluated using the scientific method” – the academic equivalent of saying it isn’t even real science.
In response, 33 of the world’s top physicists, including Stephen Hawking, Lisa Randall, and Leonard Susskind, have fired back by publishing their own open letter in Scientific American. The Cliff’s note version is this: they’re really angry.
Inflation theory was first proposed by cosmologist Alan Guth, now at MIT, back in 1980. It’s based on the idea that a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded rapidly, spinning entire galaxies out of quantum fluctuations.
“By the time it slowed down, what had been a tiny, quivering quantum realm was stretched out until it looked smooth and flat, save for speckles of denser matter that later became galaxies, stars, and planets,” writes Joshua Sokol for The Atlantic.
In the following years, Guth’s original idea was improved and updated by Stanford physicists Andrei Linde, and they’ve since spent their careers refining the inflation model – which has become the leading theory for how the Universe was born.
In fact, most of us were taught inflation theory at high school and university when discussing the Universe’s origins.
Guth and Linde, along with cosmologists David Kaiser and Yasunori Nomura, were the ones who recruited the other 29 signees behind this week’s letter.
Interestingly, one of Guth and Linde’s former colleagues, physicist Paul Steinhardt, is part of the trio they’re rallying against. Guth, Linde, and Steinhardt all shared the prestigious Dirac prize “for development of the concept of inflation in cosmology” back in 2002.
But in the years since, Steinhardt has gone rogue, and has become an active critic of inflationary theory. He was one of the authors of Scientific American’s February feature, originally titled “Pop goes the Universe”, along with Princeton physicist Anna Ijjas, and Harvard astronomer Abraham Loeb.