When a government prints cash to cover a deficit, that’s bad economics. But when string theorists deploy antigravity to make up for a deficit in their models of the universe, it could be good physics. But dreaming up hitherto unimagined subatomic particles to explain the difference could be just as good. Choices, choices. There’s a universe-load of choices out there, and it’s creating much confusion in physics, much more than a fat finger could possibly do on the trading floor.
The source of the confusion is the Hubble constant, an index of the rate at which galaxies are flying apart in a universe which has been expanding at breakneck speed since the Big Bang. In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding, and spectroscopy showed that distant galaxies are receding from us at a faster rate than nearer galaxies. And ever since, boffins from all over have been calculating the Hubble constant — the ratio of how fast a galaxy is receding to how far away it is. While the Planck space probe’s figure, based on images of the early universe, was much admired — stuff from space generally is — it is at odds with recent work, which agrees on a different figure and shows a faster-moving universe.
And so the cosmologists at Johns Hopkins University have proposed an antigravity field which appeared 1,00,000 years after the Big Bang, about when Brahma had just had time for one eyeblink, and then disappeared. The hypothesis is based on string theory, which is itself purely theoretical and unproven. But then, the entire edifice of contemporary physics rests on that very theory, and who are we to complain if physicists don’t? As Kurt Vonnegut, the perceptive philosopher who was often mistaken for a fiction writer, often wrote, “so it goes”.