Thursday, February 23, 2012

Boy of Age 16 Asks Me about Relativity, etc.
12. If Dark Energy Is Real, What Will Happen to the Relativity Theory?

Estimated distribution of dark matter making up 22% of the mass of the universe and dark energy making up 74%, with 'normal' matter making up only 0.4% of the mass of the universe. By PeteSF at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A friend of mine on Twitter, Aaron (a pseudonym), is an overseas, 16-year old boy, who seriously admires Albert Einstein and wants to become a physicist. He continually writes me (Ted, also a pseudonym) questions about the theory of relativity and related topics, and I am sending answers. In this series of blog posts, those questions and answers are reproduced with modifications. I am not an expert in the fields of physics related to relativity. So, my answers might contain errors. If you find any error, please do not hesitate to write a comment for the benefit, not only of the boy and me, but also of other readers.

Aaron: If dark energy* is true, what will happen to the relativity theory?
* In 1998, observations of Type Ia supernovae by the High-z Supernova Search Team followed in 1999 by the Supernova Cosmology Project suggested that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. (This work was awarded by the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011.) Dark energy is a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and causes this accelerating expansion of the universe. The exact physics behind dark energy is yet unknown. (Adapted from Ref. 1.)

Ted: It is a difficult question for me, so that I have consulted Ref. 1. We see the following explanation there:
"Some theorists think that dark energy and cosmic acceleration are a failure of general relativity on very large scales, larger than superclusters. However, most attempts at modifying general relativity have turned out to be either equivalent to theories of quintessence, or inconsistent with observations."
Thus, we can assume that, at the worst, general relativity might be necessary to be supplemented by a new theory for extremely large distances beyond the size of superclusters. Even in that case, however, it would not mean that general relativity was wrong but that it was a highly accurate approximation to the true theory of gravitational phenomena.

  1. "Dark energy," Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (11 February 2012 at 02:02).

(Originally written on June 9, 2011)

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