Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cosmic Expansion

Recent studies have confirmed that the cosmos in which we live is in the grip of an accelerating force called dark energy which is causing the universe to expand at ever increasing speeds. This is bizarre because gravity should be causing the expansion, generated by the initial Big Bang, to slow down. Nevertheless, all indications are that it's accelerating. Science Daily has the story:
A five-year survey of 200,000 galaxies, stretching back seven billion years in cosmic time, has led to one of the best independent confirmations that dark energy is driving our universe apart at accelerating speeds.

The findings offer new support for the favored theory of how dark energy works -- as a constant force, uniformly affecting the universe and propelling its runaway expansion.

"The action of dark energy is as if you threw a ball up in the air, and it kept speeding upward into the sky faster and faster," said Chris Blake of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

Dark energy is thought to dominate our universe, making up about 74 percent of it. Dark matter, a slightly less mysterious substance, accounts for 22 percent. So-called normal matter, anything with atoms, or the stuff that makes up living creatures, planets and stars, is only approximately four percent of the cosmos.
This last point is a fascinating detail. All that we can see with our telescopes makes up only 4% of what's out there. The rest is invisible to us because it doesn't interact with light the way normal matter does.

Here's another interesting detail. We don't know what the cosmic dark energy is, but we do know that its density is fine-tuned to one part in 10^120. That means that if the value of the density of this mysterious stuff deviated from its actual value by as little as one part in 10^120 a universe that could generate and sustain intelligent life would not exist. That level of precision is absolutely breathtaking.

Add to that the fact that the mass density, the total mass in the universe, is itself calibrated to one part in 10^60, and it is simply astonishing to realize that a universe in which life could exist actually came into being.

Imagine two dials, one has 10^120 calibrations etched into its dial face and the other has 10^60.

Now imagine that the needles of the two dials have to be set to just the mark they in fact are. If they were off by one degree out of the trillion trillion trillion, etc. degrees on the dial face the universe wouldn't exist. In fact, to make this analogy more like the actual case of the universe there would be dozens of such dials, all set to similarly precise values.

So how do scientists explain the fact that such a universe does, against all odds, exist? Some of them assume that there must be a near infinite number of different worlds, a multiverse. If the number of universes is sufficiently large (unimaginably large), and if they're all different, then as unlikely as our universe is, the laws of probability say that one like ours must exist among the innumerable varieties that are out there.

The other possibility, of course, is that our universe was purposefully engineered by a super intellect, but given the choice between believing in a near infinity of worlds for which there's virtually no evidence and believing that our universe is the product of intentional design, a belief for which there is much evidence, guess which option many modern scientists choose.

The lengths people go to in order to avoid having to believe that there's something out there with attributes similar to those traditionally imputed to God really are remarkable.

Sobering Up

Nothing like having to make one's way in the real world to disabuse oneself of all those silly liberal ideas one picks up in college. The Daily Caller has the results of a survey of recent grads who voted for Obama in 2008. A lot of them are saying, in effect, that they won't make that mistake again:
A very large proportion of recent university graduates have soured on President Barack Obama, and many will vote GOP or stay at home in the 2012 election, according to two new surveys of younger voters.

The scope of this disengagement from Obama is suggested by an informal survey of 500 post-grads by Joe Maddalone, founder of Maddalone Global Strategies. Of his sample, 93 percent are aged between 22 and 28, 67 percent are male and 83 percent voted for Obama in 2008. But only 27 percent are committed to voting for Obama again, and 80 percent said they would consider voting for a Republican, said New York-based Maddalone.

The bad news for Obama was underlined May 19 with a report by the job-firm Adecco that roughly 60 percent of recent college-grads have not been able to find a full-time job in their preferred area. One-in-five graduates have taken jobs far from their training, one-in-six are dependent on their parents, and one-in-four say they’re in debt, according to the firm’s data.

“People have had time to reflect on how they voted in 2008, and now they’re thinking about whether they have a job or like their job,” said Maddalone. As their trust in the federal government shrinks, they’re becoming more self-reliant, as their attitude shifts from “‘yes, we can,’ to ‘yes, I can,’” he said.
In other words, these grads are becoming more conservative. They're realizing that "hope and change" doesn't pay the bills and that it doesn't make sense for a young person out looking for a job to support an administration whose policies discourage employers from hiring.