Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

Follow me on Twitter | Calendar | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008

Please come visit my new page at www.jasonkendall.com

"100 Years of Cosmology: From Spiral Nebulae to the Cosmic Microwave Background"
A review of a public lecture by Dr. Michael Way, Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Friday, October 2, 2009
Amateur Astronomers' Association of New York.
Kaufmann Theater, American Museum of Natural History

Dr. Way began the first lecture of the AAA 2009-2010 Lecture Series by letting us know what he would not do: he was not going to give a physics-laden talk burdened with equations trying to make the concepts and ideas work on their own. Rather, he led us on a very human journey about the path that science takes as ideas overreach observation and experiment. It is a particularly compelling period in human history, as cosmology moved from a field of philosophers and religion into a field of quantitative study. Dr. Way described the trials that helped us to understand the universe as we know (or think we know!) it today.

Dr. Way is a noted Cosmologist with recent publications analyzing the data of the WMAP, SDSS and Southern Abell Redshift Surveys. His research areas lead him to contemplate the nature of our universe. But like all great researchers, he stood on the shoulders of giants. Dr. Way began his talk at the dawn of the science of Cosmology. He discussed Slipher's first measurements of redshifts in 1912 and Leavitt's discovery of the period-luminosity relationship of Cepheid variables in the same year. He then showed, as a frequent point of the talk, how theorists and observers seldom spoke each other's languages. In fact, Dr. Way pointed out numerous instances of fellow researchers not even talking to each other.

With the advent of Einstein's General Relativity, research began in earnest. In 1917, he and deSitter came up with cosmological models, both Einstein's self-proclaimed Great Blunder: adding the Cosmological Constant to his equations to make the universe static. Also in that year, quite apart from them, Slipher made more redshift observations of distant galaxies. Dr. Way pointed out that Carl Wilhelm Wirtz in 1918 first put together the idea that redshifts might have something to do with the underlying cosmology, and that his contributions are frequently overlooked.

Because of the difficulty in solving Einstein's equations, no real progress was made until 1922, when Friedmann discovered a solution to a non-static universe. His purely mathematical toy universe, based on zero observations, and with no contact with observers, gave a “stab in the dark” of the age of the universe at ~10 billion years. Dr. Way gave a goodly description of the famous battle between Einstein and Friedmann, with Einstein ignoring Friedmann's expanding universe solutions and deriding Lemaitre's 1927 solution as abominable. Their battle, with Einstein's celebrity winning the day, held back the idea of an expanding universe for a later time.

In 1924, Silberstein, a noted observer, published a work on the distance to globular clusters and their relationship to redshift in deSitter's cosmological model. He was roundly ridiculed for his data-analysis methods, with people criticizing him for tossing out bad data, which amounted to nearly half his observations. However, he was down a good path. He did eventually run afoul of most of the physics community with the statement that it was only Einstein, Eddington and himself who understood Relativity. In the prior year, Hubble had quietly used Leavitt's amazing work to determine the distance to M31 using a Cepheid variable, mostly ending the Curtis-Shapley debates.

It wasn't the end of the story. There was still some tweaking to be done about the exact location of Sol in our Galaxy, about its centrality or being out in some periphery. This clarification, to come later, did not significantly affect Hubble's distance measurement to Andromeda. The debates and the results fully supported Kant's earlier "Island Universe" theory, and a new understanding began to dawn.

In 1925, Dr. Way described Hubble's ongoing efforts, as well as Lemaitre's independent rediscovery of the Friedmann's expanding universe. As a priest, he was criticized by some as contributing to a “Christian view” of the Universe by adding a beginning and an ending, but he responded that that was what the equations were telling him. Dr. Way told of Swedish astronomer Knut Lundmark in 1925 who also published a paper that would have scooped Hubble, but refused to put a line in his data to show a trend. Dr. Lundmark is another forgotten figure from astronomical history, who Dr. Way pointed out was a researcher of great merit. Lundmark even created his own version of the Hubble Tuning Fork Diagram before Hubble did one!

Dr. Way notes at this point Friedmann and Lemaitre's papers are largely forgotten as toy universes, even as observers are building evidence. In 1928, Robertson, without knowledge of the others who had done the same before him, independently derived a variation of de Sitter's static universe, but one that showed redshifts. Robertson, using Hubble's measurements of the spiral nebulae, calculated the radius of the universe. Dr. Way described how he took that idea further to calculate the Hubble Constant himself. As a final note, Hubble, in 1929 mixes the recession velocity/redshift measurements with the Cepheids' luminosity to show a distance relationship. He drew the line. Interestingly, he did not quote any other works. In 1931, Einstein did what few others have done and declared that he had made mistakes. He called his Constant the biggest blunder of his career given the observations of Hubble.

Also in 1931, Lemaitre and Oort conceived of a “Universal Atom”, and Tolman predicted that such a fireball should leave a blackbody spectrum afterglow. Eddington came to the fore as a major proponent of the non-static universe. Still most held onto the older ideas, not conceiving of a finite universe.

The march of knowledge halted literally until 1946, due to the lack of new observations or theoretical work. Dr. Way here pointed out the huge gap in time that passed that allowed the static-but-expanding universe debate to sit on the back burner. Then Dicke measure the CMB, but declared it to be noise. Gamow takes stellar physics and applies it to the Primaeval Atom. In the famous “abg” paper of that year, they predicted the chemical abundance of the early universe and a ~5K background radiation. Combating that notion, with great derision, Hoyle, Bondi and Gold, in 1948 created the Steady State model, and in a radio interview dismissed the primaeval atom as “that big bang.” The name stuck; and its greatest detractor gave it its most enduring name.

In 1955 and 1957, measurements of the CMB were taken, but not understood as such, the Hubble constant shifted with time as the decades went on, and the race to find Tolman's forgotten background radiation paper were on. The 1960's led, as the race to discover the CMB continued, Dicke and his crew at Princeton were unaware of a paper written beyond the Iron Curtain by Doroshkevich and Novikov (1964), that mentioned that the CMB could be detected, and specfically could be detected by the radio telescope at Bell Labs located only 35 miles from Princeton.

Dicke did not know about Penzias and Wilson's telescope having this ability until Penzias called him up to ask about the "noise" in his instrument. Penzias and Wilson did not know anything about theoretical cosmology and hence did not know about the paper by Doroshkevich and Novikov nor the work of Dicke and Peebles. The icing on the cake happened when most of the world learned of the CMB discovery through a leaked version of the paper that appeared in the New York Times. It had not even been completely read by the referees for the journal.

Dr. Way told the history, rather than the state of affairs. His description showed that people overlooked each other's work, that work was forgotten, that people were far out of contact when they were within a short drive, and that battles and fights between rival camps of growing and nascent ideas both propel and stifle thinking and research. Dr. Way gave us a taste of the vicissitudes surrounding active research, showing us that science is just as human an endeavor as any other.



About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

(c) 2008 Jason Kendall | Inwood Astronomy | MoonBeam.Net | Donna Stearns | Shakespeare Saturdays | First Dance | About | Contact