More In This Article
This is an exciting time for cosmologists: findings are pouring in, ideas are bubbling up, and research to test those ideas is simmering away. But it is also a confusing time. All the ideas under discussion cannot possibly be right; they are not even consistent with one another. How is one to judge the progress? Here is how I go about it.
For all the talk of overturned theories, cosmologists have firmly established the foundations of our field. Over the past 70 years we have gathered abundant evidence that our universe is expanding and cooling. first, the light from distant galaxies is shifted toward the red, as it should be if space is expanding and galaxies are pulled away from one another. Second, a sea of thermal radiation fills space, as it should if space used to be denser and hotter. Third, the universe contains large amounts of deuterium and helium, as it should if temperatures were once much higher. Fourth, galaxies billions of years ago look distinctly younger, as they should if they are closer to the time when no galaxies existed. Finally, the curvature of spacetime seems to be related to the material content of the universe, as it should be if the universe is expanding according to the predictions of Einstein's gravity theory, the general theory of relativity.
This article was originally published with the title Making Sense of Modern Cosmology.