En Route to Spreading Out

“Gee, Mr Moire, if Einstein and Friedmann are right, some day the Universe will expand exponentially and everything dies. Even Dr Mack says that’s a downer.”

“First, it’s not ‘some day,’ it’s already. We’ve got evidence that exponential expansion became the dominant process five billion years ago. The interesting questions are about what happens during the expansion and what the timeline will be. That’s all controlled by a single weird parameter so naturally the parameter’s conventional symbol is w. Each major component of the Universe has its own value of w and they combine to predict the future course of the Universe.”

“Weird sounds like fun. What is it, another difference like the Cosmological Constant minus that mass‑pressure stuff?”

“Good guess, but it’s not a difference, It’s a ratio, between different flavors of energy.”

“Kinetic and potential, I’ll bet.”

“That split seems to be a common theme in Physics, doesn’t it? In this case, you’re almost right if we stretch things. One of the energy flavors is mass, including both normal and dark matter. If you take the long view, every atom of normal matter will sooner or later break down so you can think of it as a packet of potential energy, pent up and waiting for release. Dark matter, who knows? Anyway, w‘s denominator is mass per unit volume. The numerator’s a little trickier. As you guessed, we need something related to kinetic energy and we slide into that sideways.”

“How so?”

“Well, most of the normal matter is very dilute hydrogen which we can treat like a perfect gas. That’s something we’ve got a good theory for. Per unit volume, gas particle kinetic energy is proportional to pressure and that’s what we use for w‘s numerator. Averaged over the volume of space the pressure‑to‑mass ratio w for matter moving at ordinary speeds is effectively zero.”

“Does dark matter follow the same formula?”

“We pretend it does.”

“How about photons? They don’t have mass so that ratio would be infinity.”

“True, but they do carry momentum and it turns out w is simply ⅓ for photons and neutrinos and anything else traveling at relativistic speeds. Then there’s the Cosmological Constant’s w, which is minus‑one. Since the Big Bang we’ve gone from radiation‑dominated to matter‑dominated to Constant‑dominated; the effective w has shifted from somewhat positive to zero and into negative territory. Thanks to the surviving photons and matter, though, we’re still at least slightly above –1.0.”

“What difference does that make?”

“Minus‑one is the boundary between fates for the Universe. More positive than that, gravity and electromagnetism are guaranteed to be stronger than dark energy. Expansion will move gravity‑bound objects farther away from each other, but the galaxies and each galaxy cluster will stay together. The supply of hydrogen that fuels new stars will peter out. Eventually all the stars will gutter out and disappear into the cold dark as they wait for their constituent atoms to decay. The whole process will take something like 1010¹⁰ years.”

“That’s dark, alright, but at least it’ll take a long time. What happens of w is more negative than minus‑one?”

“The Big Rip. If w is more negative than the threshold, dark energy will grow stronger with time. We don’t know of anything that would limit the growth. First dark energy overpowers gravity and allows the galaxies and stars to disperse. Then it overrides the electromagnetism that holds molecules and rocks together. Eventually even the weak and strong nuclear forces will be defeated — no more atoms. Depending on how extreme w is, figure something like 200 billion years, give or take an eon.”

“Wow. But wait, we’ve covered radiation and mass and the Constant and none of them have a w below the threshold. What can have a more negative w?”

“A hypothesis. If there is anything, pretty much all we have is a name, ‘phantom energy,’ which is even more tentative than ‘dark energy.’ People are working to evaluate w with data. Results so far are so close to –1.0 that we can’t tell if it’s above or below the threshold or just teetering on the brink.”

“Two hundred billion years or way more. No worries, hey?”

~~ Rich Olcott

Constant’s Companion

“It’s like Mark Twain said, Jeremy — ‘History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.‘ Newton identified gravity as a force; Einstein proposed the Cosmological Constant. Newton worked the data to develop his Law of Gravity; Friedmann worked Einstein’s theory to devise his model of an exponentially expanding Universe. Newton was uncomfortable with gravity’s ability to act at a distance; Einstein called the Cosmological Constant ‘his greatest blunder.’ The parallels go on.”

“Why didn’t Einstein like the Constant if it explains how the Universe is expanding?”

“It wasn’t supposed to. Expanding Universes weren’t in fashion a century ago when Einstein wrote that paper. At the time everyone including Einstein thought we live in a steady state universe. His first cut at a General Relativity field equation implied a contracting universe so he added a constant term to balance out the contraction even though it made the dynamics look unstable — the Constant had to have just the right value for stability. A decade later Hubble’s data pointed to expansion and Friedman’s equations showed how that can happen.”

“I guess Einstein was embarrassed about that, huh, Mr Moire?”

“Well, he’d thought all along that the Constant was mathematically inelegant. Besides, the Constant isn’t just a number or a term in an equation, it’s supposed to represent a real process in operation. Like Newton’s problem with gravity, Einstein couldn’t identify a mechanism to power the Constant.”

“Power it to do what?”

“Think about universal constants, like the speed of light or the electron charge. Doesn’t matter where you are or how fast you’re traveling in which inertial frame, they’ve got the same values. If the Constant is indeed a constant, it contributes equally to cosmological dynamics from every position in space, whether inside a star or millions of lightyears from any galaxy. Every point must exert the same outward force in every direction or there’d be swirling. And it multiplies — every instant of general expansion makes new points in between the old points and they’ll exert the same force, too.”

“That’s what makes it exponential, right?”

“Good insight. It’s a pretty weak force per unit volume, weaker than gravity. We know that because galaxies and galaxy cluster structures maintain integrity even as they’re drifting apart from each other. Even so, a smidgeon of force from each unit volume in space adds up to a lot of force. Multiply force by distance traveled — that’s a huge amount of energy spent against gravity. The big puzzle is, what’s the energy source? Most of the astrophysics community nominates dark energy to power the Cosmological Constant but that’s not much help.”

“As Dr Prather says in class, Mr Moire, ‘You sound tentative. Please expound.‘ Why wouldn’t dark energy be the power source?”

“In Physics we use the word ‘energy‘ with a very specific meaning. Yes, it gets heavy use with sloppy meanings in everything from show business to crystal therapy, but in hard science nearly every serious research program since the 18th Century has entailed quantitative energy accounting. The First Law of Thermodynamics is conservation of energy. Whenever we see something heating up, a chemical reaction running or a force being applied along a distance, physicists automatically think about the energy being expended and where that energy is coming from. Energy’s got to balance out. But the Constant breaks that rule — we have no idea what process provides that energy. Calling the source ‘dark energy‘ just gives it a name without explaining it.”

“Isn’t the missing energy source evidence against Friedmann’s and Einstein’s equations?”

“That’s a tempting option and initially a lot of researchers took it. Unfortunately, it seems that dark energy is a thing. Or maybe a lot of little things. Several different lines of evidence say that the Constant constitutes twice as much mass‑energy as all normal and dark matter combined. Worse yet, as the Universe expands that share will increase.”

“Wait, will the dark energy invade normal matter and break us up?”

“People argue about that. Normal matter’s held together by electromagnetic forces which are 1038 times stronger than gravity, far stronger yet than dark energy. Dark matter’s gravity helps to hold galaxies together, but who knows what holds dark matter together?”

~~ ROlcott

Three Phases of Ever

“So if the Universe isn’t in a steady state and it’s not heading for a Big Crunch, I guess it’s getting bigger forever, huh?”

“Careful, Jeremy, the Universe expansion could maybe reach a stopping point if it happened to hold exactly the right amount of mass‑energy. The expansion could just stop when forces balance out.”

“What forces, Mr Moire? There’s gravity pulling everything together so what’s pushing them apart?”

“That is an excellent question, one that we don’t yet have an answer for. We’re about where Newton was with gravity. There was a lot of observational evidence, he had a name for it and knew how to calculate its effects, but he didn’t know how it worked. That’s us with Einstein’s Cosmological Constant.”

“Observational evidence — we can actually see things accelerate?”

“Not any one object speeding up. Human lifetimes are too short to measure acceleration in galaxies a hundred thousand lightyears across. No, we use the same strategy that Hubble used — measure many galaxies at different distances from us and graph recession speed against distance. During the century since Hubble we’ve greatly improved our estimates of astronomical speeds and distances. Dividing the known speed of light into a galaxy’s measured distance tells us time since it emitted the photons we see. Our findings confirm Hubble’s general conclusion — on average, older photons come from galaxies that fly away faster. Hubble thought that the relation was linear but our fine‑tuned numbers show otherwise. The data says that after the first few seconds the Universe stretched at a steady rate for only the first ⅔ of its life. The stretch has been accelerating since then.”

“Why wasn’t it accelerating since the beginning? Did someone cut in the afterburner?”

“More like turned one off. The evidence and theory we have so far indicate the Universe has seen a succession of phases dominated by different processes. You’ve probably heard of inflation—”

“Have I? You should see what they want for a burger these days!”

“Not that sort of inflation, but I know how you feel. No, I’m referring to cosmic inflation, very early in the Big Bang sequence, when the Universe expanded by a factor of 1026 within a tiny fraction of a second. It was driven by enormously powerful radiation‑linked effects we don’t understand that finally ran out of steam and let lower‑energy processes take over.”

“How’d that happen?”

“We don’t know. The general principle is that one process so dominates what’s going on in a phase that nothing else matters, until for some reason it stops mattering and we’re in a new phase with a different dominant process. The early Universe was controlled by radiative processes until things cooled off enough for particles to form and persist. That changed the game. Gravity dominated the next 8 billion years. Particles clumped together, atoms then dust then solar systems into larger and larger structures with bigger spaces between them. About 5 billion years ago the game changed again.”

“So early on there weren’t even atoms, huh? Wow. What was the next game‑changer?”

“Thanks to Einstein and Friedmann’s work we’ve got at least a guess.”

“Friedmann?”

“Alexander Friedmann. He was a Russian physicist, used Einstein’s General Relativity results to derive three equations that together model the dynamics of the overall scale of the Universe using just a few estimates for current conditions. His equations give acceleration as the difference of two terms. The positive term is simply proportional to Einstein’s Constant. The negative term depends on both average mass density and pressure. Take a moment to think.”

“Umm… Positive is acceleration, negative is deceleration, density and pressure go down … If the negative term gets smaller than the positive one, acceleration increases, right?”

“It does, and we think the constant term has been increasingly dominant for 5 billion years. Something else to consider — the equation’s result is in terms of scale change divided by current scale. What’s it mean if that ratio’s a positive constant?”

“Change by a constant positive percentage … that’s exponential growth!”

“I thought you’d recognize it. Einstein’s Constant implies the scale of the Universe grows at an exponentially accelerating rate. We’re now in the Cosmological Constant phase.”

In Russian, Aleksandr Aleksandrowitsch Fridman

~~ Rich Olcott

Gentle pressure in the dark

“C’mon in, the door’s open.”

Vinnie clomps in and he opens the conversation with, “I don’t believe that stuff you wrote about LIGO.  It can’t possibly work the way they say.”

“Well, sir, would you mind telling me why you have a problem with those posts?”  I’m being real polite, because Vinnie’s a smart guy and reads books.  Besides, he’s Vinnie.

“I’m good with your story about how Michelson’s interferometer worked and why there’s no æther.  Makes sense, how the waves mess up when they’re outta step.  Like my platoon had to walk funny when we crossed a bridge.  But the gravity wave thing makes no sense.  When a wave goes by maybe it fiddles space but it can’t change where the LIGO mirrors are.”

“Gravitational wave,” I murmur, but speak up with, “What makes you think that space can move but not the mirrors?”

“I seen how dark energy spreads galaxies apart but they don’t get any bigger.  Same thing must happen in the LIGO machine.”

“Not the same, Vinnie.  I’ll show you the numbers.”

“Ah, geez, don’t do calculus at me.”de-vs-gravity

“No, just arithmetic we can do on a spreadsheet.” I fire up the laptop and start poking in  astronomical (both senses) numbers.  “Suppose we compare what happens when two galaxies face each other in intergalactic space, with what happens when two stars face each other inside a galaxy.  The Milky Way’s my favorite galaxy and the Sun’s my favorite star.  Can we work with those?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“OK, we’ll need a couple of mass numbers.  The Sun’s mass is… (sound of keys clicking as I query Wikipedia) … 2×1030 kilograms, and the Milky Way has (more key clicks) about 1012 stars.  Let’s pretend they’re all the Sun’s size so the galaxy’s mass is (2×1030)×1012 = 2×1042 kg. Cute how that works, multiplying numbers by adding exponents, eh?”

“Cute, yeah, cute.”  He’s getting a little impatient.

“Next step is the sizes.  The Milky Way’s radius is 10×104 lightyears, give or take..  At 1016 meters per lightyear, we can say it’s got a radius of 5×1020 meters.  You remember the formula for the area of a circle?”

“Sure, it’s πr2.” I told you Vinnie’s smart.

“Right, so the Milky Way’s area is 25π×1040 m2.  Meanwhile, the Sun’s radius is 1.4×109 m and its cross-sectional area must be 2π×1018 m2.  Are you with me?”

“Yeah, but what’re we doing playing with areas?  Newton’s gravity equations just talk about distances between centers.”  I told you Vinnie’s smart.

“OK, we’ll do gravity first.  Suppose we’ve got our Milky Way facing another Milky Way an average inter-galactic distance away.  That’s about 60 galaxy radii,  about 300×1020 meters.  The average distance between stars in the Milky Way is about 4 lightyears or 4×1016 meters.  (I can see he’s hooked so I take a risk)  You’re so smart, what’s that Newton equation?”

Force or potential energy?”

“Alright, I’m impressed.  Let’s go for force.”

“Force equals Newton’s G times the product of the masses divided by the square of the distance.”

“Full credit, Vinnie.  G is about 7×10-11 newton-meter²/kilogram², so we’ve got a gravity force of (typing rapidly) (7×10-11)×(2×1042)×(2×1042)/(300×1020)² = 3.1×1029 N for the galaxies, and (7×10-11)×(2×1030)×(2×1030)/(4×1016)² = 1.75×1017 N for the stars.  Capeesh?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Get on with it.”

“Now for dark energy.  We don’t know what it is, but theory says it somehow exerts a steady pressure that pushes everything away from everything.  That outward pressure’s exerted here in the office, out in space, everywhere.  Pressure is force per unit area, which is why we calculated areas.

“But the pressure’s really, really weak.  Last I saw, the estimate’s on the order of 10-9 N/m².  So our Milky Way is pushed away from that other one by a force of (10-9)×(25π×1040) ≈ 1031 N, and our Sun is pushed away from that other star by a force of (10-9)×(2π×1018) ≈ 1010 N with rounding.  Here, look at the spreadsheet summary…”

 Force, newtons Between Galaxies Between stars
Gravity 3.1×1029 1.75×1017
Dark energy 1031 1010
Ratio 3.1×10-2 17.5×106

“So gravity’s force pulling stars together is 18 million times stronger than dark energy’s pressure pushing them apart.  That’s why the galaxies aren’t expanding.”

“Gotta go.”

(sound of door-slam )

“Don’t mention it.”

~~ Rich Olcott