Indian physicist Thanu Padmanabhan wins decade-long bet on dark energy

Pune-based theoretical physicist and Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) professor Thanu Padmanabhan has won the decade long challenge he posed to the international community of astrophysicists to prove his ideas on dark energy wrong by 2016, says a report in The Times Of India.

David Wiltshire conceded the wager at the 13th International Symposium on Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics in Sydney, while delivering a talk. Following the terms and conditions of the wager, Padmanabhan won himself prize money and a lamp that changes colours with the touch of a smartphone, after it was decided one day in 2006 that if he won he would buy a lamp of his choice so as to better throw light on his calculations that were unpopular at the time, when cosmologists were still undecided about the role of the cosmological constant. “The universe is expanding with an acceleration and the energy that drives this expansion, called the dark energy, is the cosmological constant,” Padmanabhan had said and struck a bet with Wiltshire wherein if the observationally-verified model of cosmology corresponded to a solution of Einstein's equations in the 10 years that followed, that person would be declared the winner. However the cost of the prize would not exceed $200 nor be lower than 10 percent of the loser's salary, according to a report by the Pune Mirror. Had Padmanabhan lost, he would have had to buy Wiltshire a clock "to help him keep better track of the lack of constancy of cosmological ideas."

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The website offers an explanation on dark energy and its history, and states that in the 1990s astrophysicists were divided into two exclusive camps focusing on supernovae to calculate deceleration, and found that expansion of the universe was not slowing down but speeding up, contrary to the previous notion, leading them to conclude that a force might be counteracting gravity, that scientists then termed as 'dark energy.'

Dark energy, which makes up 72 percent of all matter-energy in the universe, is a popular modern physics mystery, and is said to be a repulsive force discovered in the late 1990s through observations of far away supernovae that pushed objects in the universe away from everything else. Padmanabhan over the past decade had slightly altered Einstein's theory of gravitation, or the general theory of relativity and proposed that dark energy is a mathematical term called the 'cosmological constant,' something that Einstein had earlier suggested but then abandoned, according to a report by The Telegraph. This relates to a process called inflationary expansion in the beginning of the universe and to the amount of matter and radiation in the universe today.

Padmanabhan arrived at a value for the cosmological constant — 1 divided by 1 followed by 123 zeroes. He proved that this was the value to the number of atoms of space that can be counted in the universe, shows a report by the International Business Times.

Though Wiltshire accepted that a cosmological term may have some relevance, he suggested that the present findings on dark energy might in the future be shown to be an accident by observation, arising from a misinterpretation of gravitational energy which is non-local, says the report by The Times of India.

However, Padmanabhan's official website offers a statutory warning before giving the links to his articles, stating that nearly 99.9 percent of people believe that philosophical discussions are useless and those engaging in them are misguided, or they pretend interest in philosophy as they make great stuff for dinner table-conversations, or are occasionally curious but too satisfies in mystical solutions, or, lastly, they think they know all.

Updated Date: Dec 02, 2016 12:11 PM

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