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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Standard Model of Cosmology - Simplified

The BBC's "Horizon" series has a fascinating hour long show presenting the ideas of the Standard Model of Cosmology - atoms, dark matter, and dark energy - in a simplified, easy to understand format. I recommend it highly. It brings together a lot of very abstruse material and makes it understandable to the non-scientist. Also unusual is its way of handling "talking head" shots, by setting scientists in unusual milieus for their interviews. According to the Standard Model of Cosmology the universe is composed of 4% baryonic matter (atoms and their sub-particles that make up the visible universe), 23% dark matter (a mysterious, heretofore undetected substance that interacts with baryonic matter only through its gravitational force), and 73% dark energy (a mysterious, so far undetected energy that is responsible for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe).

In keeping with George Gilder's ruminations in "The Israel Test", I will note that something like 8 of the 10 modern scientists instrumental in advancing the Standard Model of Cosmology are Jewish. One of them, Vera Rubin at The Carnegie Institue, who discovered the flat-rotation curve of spiral galaxies, is an observant Jew who chose her field of research so she could stay home, be a good Jewish wife, and raise her four children, all of whom became scientists in their own right. Sometimes a narrow discipline, instead of an abandonment, is the gateway to great discoveries. On the possible conflict between religion and science she said in an interview: "In my own life, my science and my religion are separate. I'm Jewish, and so religion to me is a kind of moral code and a kind of history. I try to do my science in a moral way, and, I believe that, ideally, science should be looked upon as something that helps us understand our role in the universe."

In the early '70s, research on black holes was all the rage but required traveling to distant, large telescopes. Instead, Vera Rubin gave up the pursuit of the sexy topic of the day and focused her attention on something she could do close to home. Like Henrietta Leavitt, her Congregationalist predecessor who in 1908 discovered Cephid variables, now the "standard light candle" of astronomy, Rubin's discovery served as the observational foundation on which the Standard Model of Cosmology has been built. Even the main opposition to the Standard Model is led by a Jew, Prof. Mordechai Milgrom of the Weizmann Institute in Israel, who has proposed nothing less audacious than a modification of the laws of gravity to explain the flat-rotation curves of spiral galaxies.

If all of this sounds rather daunting, the video will soon make it clear.

Having trouble watching the embedded video? Go here:

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