The Cosmological Axis of Evil: not nearly as awesome as it sounds

Question from James:
Has there been any discussion on here about what’s known as the cosmological “Axis of Evil” which shows that earth’s ecliptic plane is aligned at the center of the universe and therefore contradicts the Copernican Principle? Isn’t this phenomenon well documented by scientific data?

Answer by SmartLX:
Not until now, but I didn’t have to look far to get the general idea. Some data suggests that there is something very special about the way the Solar System is aligned, perhaps even put-there-deliberately level special. That data is suspect, and ambiguous even if accurate. So…documented, yes, established, no.

12 thoughts on “The Cosmological Axis of Evil: not nearly as awesome as it sounds”

  1. I would say that the findings are very well established. They have observed it with at least three different satellite missions and found the same results. Even cosmologist and antitheist Lawrence Krauss has said

    “But when you look at the CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the sun-the plane of the earth around the sun- the ecliptic. That would say we truly are the center of the universe.”

    Upon seeing anisotropies in the CMB Stephen Hawking proclaimed it “the discovery of a millenium, if not all time.”

    So, why didn’t it become front page news? Why is it not well known? The answer: “it has potentially very dangerous implications for the standard model of cosmology.” That’s why the authors of a major study dubbed it the “Axis of Evil.” You can read about it here.

    Here is another good article to read.

    Doesn’t this information change everything we thought we knew about the universe?

    1. I don’t understand why you think this information changes everything we know about the universe, James. I’m curious why you do?

      1. The Standard model says the universe should be homogeneous. CMB mapping says it isn’t.
        The standard model says the universe should be isotropic. CMB mapping says it isn’t.
        The standard model says there is no preferred direction of the universe. CMB mapping says there is. The likelihood of these alignments happening by chance are 0.1%
        Carl Sagan once said “we find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.”
        CMB mapping says we are at the center of our universe.
        Don’t you think think that changes our understanding of the universe Tim? Krauss and Hawking seem to think so

        1. You’ve asked two different questions now. Perhaps you didn’t mean to phrase the first one the way you did. You asked “Doesn’t this information change everything we thought we knew about the universe?” in your earlier post, and now you’ve asked “Don’t you think think that changes our understanding of the universe Tim?”. The “everything” in the question is what got my attention, because I don’t see how the axis of evil concept affects things like the speed of light for example.

          Assuming you don’t mean everything, and just mean that this changes the understanding of our universe, my answer is that I can’t say for sure. The problem with this observed alignment is that we can’t be sure it actually exists, because we can’t see all of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). We can only see the part of the CMB that hasn’t accelerated faster than the speed of light relative to our position in the universe, and the same for far off galaxies as well. If there are other alignments of the CMB (or in how galaxies are arranged), but we can’t see them because they are beyond our visual range, then it wouldn’t be unusual for such things to exist. But, alas, that is something we won’t be able to know. So we are limited to studying what we can see for the proposed homogeneity of the universe.

          However, homogeneity cannot be directly observed in the galaxy distribution or CMB, even with perfect observations, since we observe on the past light cone and not on spatial surfaces. We can test for isotropy, but you have to assume the Copernicus Principle to link it to homogeneity, and if that’s a bad assumption then it’s a bad link. But the universe does show high isotropy (based on the 2016 paper “How Isotropic is the Universe?”).

          So maybe something is wrong with our current understanding, or we haven’t collected all the data we need to get the correct understanding, or we are assuming the wrong thing which is why we are seeing such things, or something else.

          As this is a very interesting physics conversation, and has nothing to do with atheism, I’m not sure why the original question was asked here instead of at a physics chat board…

    2. I found the full statement by Krauss here. The quote above is his direct interpretation of the data available at the time in the context of the standard model. In the very next paragraph he gives two other possibilities: the data may be wrong (for which there is considerable support), or our large-scale theories of microwave radiation may need to change somewhat to interpret the data correctly.

      In this same final paragraph he states outright that he wants the data to be right and the model to be wrong, because that makes more work for physicists like him. Nevertheless, this article (which paints resistance to the Axis of Evil idea as a literal conspiracy) points out the fact that Krauss was very dismissive of the idea in another interview a short time later. Subsequent analysis of the data does not seem to have been kind to the Axis at all, and the findings are no longer regarded as definitively earth-shaking.

      1. Can you offer some supporting evidence for this last sentence? Preferably some peer-reviewed articles. Subsequent observations over the years have shown further evidence of the Axis. Polarization distribution of quasars, the velocity flow, the handedness of the spiral galaxies, and the anisotropy of the cosmic acceleration. You can read about it here.

        The article concludes that this phenomenon is either cosmological or non-cosmological (unsolved errors or contamination.) If cosmological, a new cosmological model would need to be built. If non-cosmological, we would need to treat the errors and exclude them from future analysis.

        New cosmological model? I would consider that earth-shaking. I don’t think this is going away anytime soon either. Maybe if we close our eyes and ignore it, or don’t talk about it it will go away.

        1. The evidence that this is not regarded as earth-shaking is the absence of peer-reviewed articles and other such material, where there should be a ton. If your conclusion is correct it is undeniably earth-shaking, but physicists with any public profile to speak of simply don’t think it’s correct or even likely based on the evidence as it stands right now. All kinds of claims would completely upend science if they turned out to be true, but that’s usually difficult to establish even if they are.

  2. This sounds very interesting. I wasn’t aware of this. Thank for the info.

    There are a lot of experimental observations that are not reconciled with current particle physics and cosmology standard models.
    These models themselves are Mathematical feats – took years to make. They work very well for most situations. But the fact that data like the above exists probably shows that theoretical physicists won’t be out of work anytime soon!
    The reluctance or skepticism among scientists to come to grips with such data is understandable. Firstly there is always the possibility that there might be something wrong with the data. Its a very real possibility and there is often debate within research groups about data often.
    Secondly, there is also the career investment (very like an intensely emotional investment) of theoretical physicists towards their hard fought clarity in understanding how (mostly) the universe works.
    Last time I checked, Lawrence Krauss was human. So his mixed reactions are understandable.

    The Mathematics behind the standard models of particle physics and cosmology is hard stuff – quite a bit of it is unfathomable to me as a trained engineer – and advanced engineering Math in itself is no joke to begin with. Theorists have been trying to develop better models and the Math becomes more and more daunting. Thus coming across data that shows inadequacy of current models is bound to elicit a somewhat troubled reaction from them 🙂

    But even if the data holds, all it shows is that our models are missing something. I’m not sure that the above being good data implies automatically that god-did-it. Could have been the hyperspace computer mentioned by Isaac Asimov in his old and oddly not too well known short story “The Last Question” 🙂 . (9 page short story, worth a read … downloadable as pdf on a number of websites as copyrights have expired on it).
    We’ll have to let theoretical physicists hit upon the correct bunch of ideas to explain such anomalies … just like they have always been doing.

  3. I’m glad you find it interesting and you are not alone in being unaware of its existence. In doing my research I have found that it is very well known among cosmologists and astrophysicists but virtually unknown by the general public. I like to call it “the elephant in the universe.” This is a shame. Here are some links so you can read more about it. I can only understand the abstracts, introductions, and conclusions of these articles so these are the only parts I read. I will also include some articles about the LTB or Void Model from 1931. It was previously discarded because it puts us in the center of the universe and therefore violates the Copernican Principle. It does, however, eliminate the need for the controversial idea of dark energy, which as the author points out, violates the Copernican Principle also. Did you know that the theory of dark energy violates the Copernican Principle? I didn’t. It seems there is alot that we don’t know.

    1. Thanks. This is interesting. Will definitely go through the links.
      I agree that there is a lot we do not know. Despite knowing a lot.
      Our brains are essentially survival engines … and already by putting them to the task of answering deeper questions about “Life, Universe and everything” we are straining them 🙂
      But then, there’s fun to be had in straining our brains.

      I have a vague idea that not all physicists are happy with the concept of dark energy. There are always attempts by theorists to try to do away with the need for it. Some time back there was a paper in which some physicists took the non-linearities in Einstein’s field equations quite seriously and solved for these non-linearities instead of using techniques to linearize. And apparently they could explain the universe without the need for dark energy through that.
      And more recently in November last year there was this piece in sciencedaily:

      Science works that way – there are no certainties – just models of reality. Some models are good fit, some are bad … and some good fit models have to be discarded when better ones come along.
      And it tends to answer much more than religion does.

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