Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Perhaps you noticed the award of the Nobel Prize in physics. It has left me scratching my head. The prize was awarded "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae". You can read the details on the Nobel website. Words are important. The award citation which is quoted above speaks of the "accelerating expansion" of the Universe. The science reporter for the Washington Post, BrianVastag, was apparently confused. In his article today he offers these summaries of the citation: "...for showing that the universe is flying apart..."; "..as galaxies continue to pull apart from one another..."; "... how fast the stars...were racing away from the Earth..."; "...the universe's inflation was speeding up..."; and finally, "...mysterious anti-gravitational force must be pushing the universe...". Well. Pushing? Pulling? Inflating? I learned from his article that scientists have calculated the mass of the universe. Whether it is pulled or pushed, where is it going? If the universe as we know it is flying away to someplace else, where is that place? One of the winning scientists comments that these are very philosophical questions. I'm not sure if it is an advantage or disadvantage to understand their work. You can accept the Nobel winning calculation that the result of the accelerating expansion will be a black and cold end. Or you can believe that this is all part of a greater design that is beyond human comprehension. Your choice.