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FOR centuries the ancients believed the Earth was flat. Evidence to the contrary was either ignored or effortlessly integrated into the dominant world view. Today we dismiss flat-Earthers as ignorant, yet we may be making an almost identical mistake – not about our planet, but about the entire universe.
When it comes to the universe, "flatness" refers to the fate of light beams travelling large distances parallel to each other. If the universe is "flat", the beams will always remain parallel. Matter, energy and dark energy all produce curvature in space-time, however. If the universe's space-time is positively curved, like the surface of a sphere, parallel beams would come together. In a negatively curved, saddle-shaped universe, parallel beams would diverge.
Thanks in part to the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite, which revealed the density of matter and dark energy in the early universe, most astronomers are confident that the universe is flat. But that view is now being questioned by Joseph Silk at the University of Oxford and colleagues, who say it's possible that the WMAP observations have been misinterpreted.
In a paper accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (www.arxiv.org/abs/0901.3354), they took data from WMAP and other cosmology experiments and analysed it using Bayes's theorem, which can be used to show how the certainty attached to a particular conclusion is affected by different starting assumptions.
Using modern astronomers' assumptions, which presuppose a flat universe, they calculated the probability that the universe was in one of three states: flat, positively curved or negatively curved. This produced a 98 per cent probability that the universe is indeed flat. When they reran the calculation starting from a more open-minded position, however, the probability changed to 67 per cent, making a flat universe far less of a certainty than astronomers generally conclude.
"It's a reasonable assumption that the universe isn't entirely flat," Silk says, adding that the calculation reveals how strongly astronomers' prejudices can affect their conclusions. David Spergel of Princeton University, the spokesman for WMAP, agrees. "They've developed a statistically rigorous way of examining the question," he says.
The calculation reveals how strongly astronomers' prejudices can affect their conclusions
Silk says astronomers need to achieve a 99.9999 per cent level of confidence on the flat universe, high enough that the case starts to look compelling no matter what the starting assumptions are. It's possible, however, that no measurements will ever be able to get to that level of accuracy.
when we say the universe is flat it is not in the same sense that a piece of paper is flat, but rather means that the geometry of the universe is such that parallel lines will never cross, the angles in a triangle will always add up to 180 degress, and the corners of cubes will always make right angles. We call this kind of geometry (the kind you learned in school) Euclidean geometry.
It's easy to make examples in 2D space (ie. a flat piece of paper vs. a curved piece of paper, or the surface of a balloon). It's not so easy to illustrate flat 3D space - since we are 3D! So it's totally understandable that the concept is confusing
Now, remind me, how exactly does science transcend our limitations again?
"We don't know.". I have no respect for sandcastles of conjecture for things we are in no position to know at current.
Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.
Originally posted by Watcher-In-The-Shadows
reply to post by dragonridr
And what if the curvature is so small as to be virtually unnoticable even over vast distances?
It always amuses me when someone snaps back with what you just snapped back with, ad homs seem to be such a fun fall back defense seeing as to how much they are used.
I understand quite well scientific method thank you very much.
But even more I also understand how the human animal works and nothing, not his science or his religions transcend his nature or his limitations I hate to inform you.
We enshine ideas, it's what a large chunk of us do, even though we are in no position to truthfully back up those ideas. *I believe the term is paradigm?*
Not knowing something scares us, so we fill in the blanks.
I mean, really, have you looked critically at the history and development of the Big Bang Theory recently?
Nothing really all that impressive if you think about it.
Nuclear fission or splitting the atom. And what do we do with it, other than create a lovely toy in which to put oursevles into extinction with?