Can we understand how the universe was formed? A young scientist explains

universe 19

(Guillermo Ferla, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.


As part of a series exploring the bold new frontiers of science, we caught up Yabebal Fantaye, an expert in cosmology at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, to find out why he dedicated his research to searching for anomalies in the cosmic radiation background of the universe.

What is the big problem you’re trying to solve?

I have been trying to find observational hints that may help us understand the physical process that shaped the the initial phase of the universe at the Big Bang, as well as the nature of dark energy, an elusive source of an anti-gravity-like force that acts at a cosmological scale, a scale much bigger than many many galaxies combined. The presence of dark energy was confirmed two decades ago by experiments that showed the universe is not only expanding – which has been known since Edwin Hubble’s observation in the late 1920s – but also accelerating. To accelerate at the cosmological scale, the dominant gravity force must be one with anti-gravity nature. In the standard physics, there is no such source – hence the name dark energy.

What is the big idea you’re trying to use to solve it?

Following up anomalies in the cosmic microwave background. The cosmic microwave background is the oldest electromagnetic light, a radiation which started its journey as high energy at the time when the universe was only about 400,000 years old and then stretched to low-energy microwave region due to the cosmological expansion of the universe. This radiation fills the entire universe, setting the minimum temperature of its empty space, which is just 2.7 Kelvin!

Since its serendipitous first detection in 1965, the cosmic microwave background data has given us most of the knowledge about the universe. The experiment I was involved in, the European Space Agency Planck satellite mission, has mapped the cosmic microwave background with unprecedented sensitivity, and gave us a wealth of information about the Big Bang, cementing once more the standard cosmological model, which says the Universe is about 13.8 billion years old. Previous observations of the cosmic microwave background data by the NASA WMAP satellite, however, indicated the presence of anomalies that couldn’t be explained by the standard model. Given that many of the grand revolutions in physics, including general relativity and quantum physics, came as the result of efforts to explain and understand inconsistencies and anomalies in accepted models, I was interested in exploring these further.

The Planck satellite image of the early universe as seen through the cosmic microwave background. This figure illustrates visually the power asymmetry anomaly: at the largest scales, temperature fluctuations are more extreme in the half of the sky to the right of the gray line than to the left.
Image: ESA and the Planck Collaboration

What has been the most difficult/challenging part of the journey?

Anomalies only become exciting only if statistical fluctuations and systematic errors are excluded as possible origins. Ruling out the systematic errors scenario is easy: one only needs to demonstrate the same anomaly exists in two independent experiments observing the same process. This was the case for us – the WMAP and Planck satellites are independent experiments with completely different observation and instrument designs. What is hard is showing the anomalies are not due to statistical fluctuations, but related to unknown physics, hence opening up a window of opportunity to learn something new.

What is the most shocking fact that people are unaware of?

The connection between cosmology and particle physics. The Big Bang mechanism means that the larger the scale you are probing, a scale as big as the entire universe, the closer you get to its origin, which is governed more by dynamics studied by particle physicists; the very small scale. This is because the universe grew out of small volume whose behaviour is dictated by the quantum world.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Make this the year of ‘transformative solutions’ to avert disastrous climate change: UN Deputy Chief

Women in medical leadership: future perspectives of medicine

Further reforms in Sweden can drive growth, competitiveness and social cohesion

Robot inventors are on the rise. But are they welcomed by the patent system?

Brazilian officer a ‘stellar example’ of why more women are needed in UN peacekeeping

Commissioner McGuinness announces proposed way forward for central clearing

Syria: Commissioner Lenarčič visits Turkish border and calls for renewal of UN cross-border resolution

4 principles for securing the digital identity ecosystem

UN chief praises New Zealand premier’s ‘admirable’ response to Christchurch attacks

Why 2020 is a turning point for cybersecurity

COVID-19 tests rely on bacteria discovered in a natural pool in the 1960s – and it’s not the only slice of nature essential to medicine

Migration: Commission refers HUNGARY to the Court of Justice of the European Union over its failure to comply with Court judgment

Q&A: A on the EU COVID-19 certificate

Working with millennials, leaders say humility works better than bossing around

How Abu Dhabi found a way to grow vegetables in 40-degree heat

Russia and the EU ‘trade’ natural gas supplies and commercial concessions in and out of Ukraine

Eurozone’s central bank leadership prepares for shoddier prospects

Workplace bullies could now go to jail in South Korea

Biggest ever UN aid delivery in Syria provides relief to desperate civilians

Negotiations on new EU collective redress rules to begin

Why we are using these custom-built drones to collect whale snot

For video game addiction, now read official ‘gaming disorder’: World Health Organization

Ebola cases rising in DR Congo, but UN health agency cites progress in community trust-building

Antibiotics are contaminating the world’s rivers

British PM May’s Brexit proposal remains obscure while her government unravels

The EU Parliament blasts the Council about the tax dealings of the wealthy

5 lessons from Africa on how drones could transform medical supply chains

More people now plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine than in December

Turkey: Commission continues humanitarian support for refugees

Only one in five countries has a healthcare strategy to deal with climate change

Africa must use tech to chase corruption out of the shadows

Mergers: Commission approves Assa Abloy’s acquisition of Agta Record, subject to conditions

World’s human rights watchdog spotlights Afghanistan, Yemen and 12 others: Here’s the scoop

US-China trade war: Washington now wants control of the renminbi-yuan

ECB: Growth measures even before the German elections

Z, V or ‘Nike swoosh’ – what shape will the COVID-19 recession take?

Cultural diversity can drive economies. Here are lessons from India and South Asia

EU Member States test their cybersecurity preparedness for free and fair EU elections

This is how music festivals are tackling plastic waste

Malta: Human rights experts call for justice in case of murdered journalist

3 things to know about women in STEM

Q and A: This is how stakeholder capitalism can help heal the planet

10 months were not enough for the EU to save the environment but 2 days are

These are the top 10 emerging technologies of 2019

Why EU’s working and unemployed millions remain uncertain or even desperate about their future

Europe again the black sheep at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors

FROM THE FIELD: Changing world, changing families

The relationship between Dengue and the rainfall in Boa Vista, Brazil

EU, Canada and China co-host international meeting on climate cooperation and a sustainable economic recovery

Why is black plastic packaging so hard to recycle?

Raising the Scope of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in Vulnerable Populations

Companies can help solve water scarcity. Here’s how

A new bioeconomy strategy for a sustainable Europe

Giving humanitarian help to migrants should not be a crime, according to the EP

European Solidarity Corps: three years on

Marriage equality boosted employment of both partners in US gay and lesbian couples

The West and Russia accomplished the dismembering and the economic destruction of Ukraine

State aid: Commission approves €1.4 billion Swedish scheme to support uncovered fixed costs of companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

Gaza: deadly violence continues to escalate, top UN officials work to restore calm

EU food watchdog: more transparency, better risk prevention

More Stings?

Comments

  1. Great post 🙂

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: