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Why Einstein cheated on his work

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 13th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A century ago, Einstein cheated on his work. His model of the universe wasn't working because the math didn't seem to add up. Everybody at that time believed the universe to be a fixed, steady thing with stars and galaxies hovering in place, but Einstein's math said it should be expanding. Einstein faced a problem, how to fit a round peg into the square hole of his theory.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - So Einstein cheated, in a way. He created the cosmological constant, a sort of fudge factor to make his new calculations work. This allowed his new calculations to show that the universe was a steady place after all, thus matching the prevalent scientific expectations of the time. Unfortunately, this was a mistake.

As with all cheaters, conscience is a nag and Einstein remained troubled by what he would later call his "greatest blunder." The good scientist corrected himself as soon as contradictory evidence came available. Luckily, he didn't have to work very hard.

Georges Lemaitre, a Catholic priest and professor, studied Einstein's work, then predicted the universe could be expanding and suggested with great accuracy just how fast that might be happening. 

Subsequent observations by the preeminent astronomer, Edwin Hubble, proved Lemaitre correct.

Hubble's method was to observe the light coming from distant objects. Light, like any other energy travelling through the universe, moves in waves. As an object moves closer, the light becomes more intense, or specifically, blue. As it moves away, the light becomes less intense, and red. 

You may experience a similar effect, known popularly as Doppler shift, when you listen to the sound of an oncoming vehicle. As it gets closer, the sound gets much louder, but the instant it passes you, the sound rapidly fades. 

When Hubble observed a "red shift" in the light of distant objects, it became obvious that the universe was expanding. That meant Einstein's original calculations that predicted an expanding universe were right.

In the decades that followed, scientists have asked why the universe is expanding, but until recently they haven't had the technology to properly study the question. Fortunately, new technology and methods have made advanced observations possible and scientists now know, with over 99 percent certainty, that the universe is expanding because of a mysterious force known as "dark energy."

Scientists call it dark energy because they cannot (yet) directly observe it. So far, only its effects have been measured. Nobody can say precisely what it is, but it is very evident what it does. And what it does will also surprise you. Scientists now know that the universe is not only expanding, but that the rate of expansion is accelerating. 

Scientists now also know that empty space isn't empty space. New observations demonstrate that particles in space literally pop into existence from nothing (that we can yet observe) and also disappear. There's no agreed explanation yet for this phenomenon, but some think this phenomenon could be strongly related to dark energy.

Ultimately, scientists now know with great certainty that dark energy is real and that Einstein was correct the first time around; despite the pressure to be right, he didn't have to cheat. Although scientists will continue to test his theories, few actually expect to see contradictory answers. The good news is that these new understandings bring us closer to understanding how the universe works, and thus helps us to appreciate the marvel of all creation. 

 

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