From The University of Oxford (UK): “‘Lopsided’ Universe could mean revision of Standard Cosmological Model – ΛCDM Model of Cosmology”

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From The University of Oxford (UK)



Dr Sebastian von Hausegger and Professor Subir Sarkar from the Rudolf Peierls Centre for Theoretical Physics at Oxford, together with their collaborators Dr Nathan Secrest (US Naval Observatory, Washington), Dr Roya Mohayaee (Institut d’Astrophysique, Paris) and Dr Mohamed Rameez (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai), have made a surprising discovery about the Universe. Their paper is in press in The Astrophysical Journal Letters [below].

The researchers used observations of over a million quasars and half a million radio sources to test the ‘cosmological principle’ which underlies modern cosmology. It says that when averaged on large scales the Universe is isotropic and homogeneous. This allows a simple mathematical description of space-time – the Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) metric – which enormously simplifies the application of Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity to the Universe as a whole, thus yielding the “standard cosmological model”. Interpretation of observational data in the framework of this model has however led to the astounding conclusion that about 70% of the Universe is in the form of a mysterious “dark energy” which is causing its expansion rate to accelerate.

The Dark Energy Survey

Dark Energy Camera [DECam] built at The DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

NOIRLab National Optical Astronomy Observatory Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CL) Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the Dark-Energy-Camera – DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile at an altitude of 7200 feet.

NOIRLabNSF NOIRLab NOAO Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory(CL) approximately 80 km to the East of La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 2200 meters.

The Dark Energy Survey is an international, collaborative effort to map hundreds of millions of galaxies, detect thousands of supernovae, and find patterns of cosmic structure that will reveal the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of our Universe. The Dark Energy Survey began searching the Southern skies on August 31, 2013.

According to Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, gravity should lead to a slowing of the cosmic expansion. Yet, in 1998, two teams of astronomers studying distant supernovae made the remarkable discovery that the expansion of the universe is speeding up.
Saul Perlmutter (center) [The Supernova Cosmology Project] shared the 2006 Shaw Prize in Astronomy, the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics with Brian P. Schmidt (right) and Adam Riess (left) [The High-z Supernova Search Team] for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

To explain cosmic acceleration, cosmologists are faced with two possibilities: either 70% of the universe exists in an exotic form, now called Dark Energy, that exhibits a gravitational force opposite to the attractive gravity of ordinary matter, or General Relativity must be replaced by a new theory of gravity on cosmic scales.

The Dark Energy Survey is designed to probe the origin of the accelerating universe and help uncover the nature of Dark Energy by measuring the 14-billion-year history of cosmic expansion with high precision. More than 400 scientists from over 25 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia are working on the project. The collaboration built and is using an extremely sensitive 570-Megapixel digital camera, DECam, mounted on the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, high in the Chilean Andes, to carry out the project.

Over six years (2013-2019), the Dark Energy Survey collaboration used 758 nights of observation to carry out a deep, wide-area survey to record information from 300 million galaxies that are billions of light-years from Earth. The survey imaged 5000 square degrees of the southern sky in five optical filters to obtain detailed information about each galaxy. A fraction of the survey time is used to observe smaller patches of sky roughly once a week to discover and study thousands of supernovae and other astrophysical transients.
This has been interpreted as arising from the zero-point fluctuations of the quantum vacuum, with the associated energy scale set by HØ, the present rate of expansion of the universe. However, this is quite inexplicable in the successful Standard Model (quantum field theory) of fundamental interactions, the characteristic energy scale of which is higher by a factor of 1044. So, while the standard cosmological model (called ΛCDM) describes the observational data well, its main component, dark energy, has no physical basis.

Testing foundational assumptions

This is what motivated the researchers to re-examine its underlying assumptions. Professor Sarkar says: “When the foundations of today’s standard cosmological model were laid a hundred years ago, there was no data. We didn’t even know then that we live in a galaxy – just one among a hundred billion others. Now that we do have data, we can, and should, test these foundational assumptions since a lot rests on them – in particular the inference that dark energy dominates the Universe.”

In fact, the Universe today is manifestly not homogeneous and isotropic. Astronomical surveys reveal a filamentary structure of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and superclusters of clusters … and this ‘cosmic web’ extends to the deepest scales currently probed of about 2 billion light years.

The conventional wisdom is that, while clumpy on small scales, the distribution of matter becomes homogeneous when averaged on scales larger than about 300 million light years. The Hubble expansion is smooth and isotropic on large scales, while on small scales the gravitational effect of inhomogeneities give rise to ‘peculiar’ velocities eg our nearest neighbor the Andromeda galaxy is not receding in the Hubble flow – rather it is falling towards us.

Back in 1966, the cosmologist Dennis Sciama noted that because of this, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation from the Big Bang could not be uniform on the sky.

It must exhibit a ‘dipole anisotropy’ ie appear hotter in the direction of our local motion and colder in the opposite direction. This was indeed found soon afterwards and is attributed to our motion at about 370 km/s towards a particular direction (in the constellation of Crater). Accordingly, a special relativistic ‘boost’ is applied to all cosmological data (redshifts, apparent magnitudes etc) to transform them to the reference frame in which the universe is isotropic, since it is in this ‘cosmic rest frame’ that the Friedmann-Lemaître equations of the standard cosmological model hold. Application of these equations to the corrected data then indicates that the Hubble expansion rate is accelerating, as if driven by Einstein’s Cosmological Constant “L”, aka dark energy.

The cosmological principle

How can we check if this is true? If the dipole anisotropy in the CMB is due to our motion, then there must be a similar dipole in the sky distribution of all cosmologically distant sources. This is due to ‘aberration’ because of the finite speed of light – as was recognized by Oxford astronomer James Bradley in 1727, long before Albert Einstein’s formulation of the Special Theory of Relativity which predicts this effect. Such sources were first identified with radio telescopes; the relativist George Ellis and radio astronomer John Baldwin noted in 1984 that with a uniform sky map of at least a few hundred thousand such sources, this dipole could be measured and compared with the standard expectation. It was not however until this millennium that the first such data became available – the NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS) catalogue of radio sources.

The dipole amplitude turned out to be higher than expected, although its direction was consistent with that of the CMB. However, the uncertainties were large, so the significance of the discrepancy was not compelling. Two years ago, the present team of researchers upped the stakes by analyzing a bigger catalogue of 1.4 million quasars mapped by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WISE).

They found a similar discrepancy but at much higher significance. Dr von Hausegger comments: “If distant sources are not isotropic in the rest frame in which the CMB is isotropic, it implies a violation of the cosmological principle … which means going back to square one! So, we must now seek corroborating evidence to understand what causes this unexpected result.”

In their recent paper, the researchers have addressed this by performing a joint analysis of the NVSS and WISE catalogues after performing various detailed checks to demonstrate their suitability for the purpose. These catalogues are systematically independent and have almost no shared objects so this is equivalent to performing two independent experiments. The dipoles in the two catalogues, made at widely different wavelengths, are found to be consistent with each other. The consistency of the two dipoles improves upon boosting to the frame in which the CMB is isotropic (assuming its dipole to be kinematic in origin), which suggests that cosmologically distant radio galaxies and quasars may have an intrinsic anisotropy in this frame. The joint significance of the discrepancy between the rest frames of radiation and matter now exceeds 5σ (ie a probability of less than 1 in 3.5 million of being a fluke). “This issue can no longer be ignored,” comments Professor Sarkar. “The validity of the FLRW metric itself is now in question!”

Potential paradigm-changing finding

New data with which to check this potentially paradigm-changing finding will soon come from the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) to be carried out at the Vera C Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Oxford Physics is closely involved in this project, along with many other institutions in the UK and all over the world. Professor Ian Shipsey who has been a member of LSST since 2008, is excited about the prospect of carrying out fundamental cosmological tests. ‘As a particle physicist, I am acutely aware that the foundations of the Standard Model of particle physics are constantly under scrutiny.

One of the reasons I joined LSST, and have worked for so long on it, is precisely to enable powerful tests of the foundations of the standard cosmological model,’ he says. To this end, Dr Hausegger and Professor Sarkar are leading projects in the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration to use the forthcoming data to test the homogeneity and isotropy of the Universe. ‘We will soon know if the standard cosmological model and the inference of dark energy are indeed valid,’ concludes Professor Sarkar.

Science paper:
The Astrophysical Journal Letters

See the full article here.


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The University of Oxford

Universitas Oxoniensis

The University of Oxford [a.k.a. The Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Oxford] is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris [Université de Paris] (FR). After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge (UK). The two English ancient universities share many common features and are jointly referred to as Oxbridge.

The university is made up of thirty-nine semi-autonomous constituent colleges, six permanent private halls, and a range of academic departments which are organized into four divisions. All the colleges are self-governing institutions within the university, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities. All students are members of a college. It does not have a main campus, and its buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the city centre. Undergraduate teaching at Oxford consists of lectures, small-group tutorials at the colleges and halls, seminars, laboratory work and occasionally further tutorials provided by the central university faculties and departments. Postgraduate teaching is provided predominantly centrally.

Oxford operates the world’s oldest university museum, as well as the largest university press in the world and the largest academic library system nationwide. In the fiscal year ending 31 July 2019, the university had a total income of £2.45 billion, of which £624.8 million was from research grants and contracts.

Oxford has educated a wide range of notable alumni, including 28 prime ministers of the United Kingdom and many heads of state and government around the world. As of October 2020, 72 Nobel Prize laureates, 3 Fields Medalists, and 6 Turing Award winners have studied, worked, or held visiting fellowships at the University of Oxford, while its alumni have won 160 Olympic medals. Oxford is the home of numerous scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest international graduate scholarship programmes.

The University of Oxford’s foundation date is unknown. It is known that teaching at Oxford existed in some form as early as 1096, but it is unclear when a university came into being.

It grew quickly from 1167 when English students returned from The University of Paris-Sorbonne [Université de Paris-Sorbonne](FR). The historian Gerald of Wales lectured to such scholars in 1188, and the first known foreign scholar, Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190. The head of the university had the title of chancellor from at least 1201, and the masters were recognized as a universitas or corporation in 1231. The university was granted a royal charter in 1248 during the reign of King Henry III.

The students associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two ‘nations’, representing the North (northerners or Boreales, who included the English people from north of the River Trent and the Scots) and the South (southerners or Australes, who included English people from south of the Trent, the Irish and the Welsh). In later centuries, geographical origins continued to influence many students’ affiliations when membership of a college or hall became customary in Oxford. In addition, members of many religious orders, including Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Augustinians, settled in Oxford in the mid-13th century, gained influence and maintained houses or halls for students. At about the same time, private benefactors established colleges as self-contained scholarly communities. Among the earliest such founders were William of Durham, who in 1249 endowed University College, and John Balliol, father of a future King of Scots; Balliol College bears his name. Another founder, Walter de Merton, a Lord Chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college life. Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments at Oxford, as well as at the University of Cambridge. Thereafter, an increasing number of students lived in colleges rather than in halls and religious houses.

In 1333–1334, an attempt by some dissatisfied Oxford scholars to found a new university at Stamford, Lincolnshire, was blocked by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge petitioning King Edward III. Thereafter, until the 1820s, no new universities were allowed to be founded in England, even in London; thus, Oxford and Cambridge had a duopoly, which was unusual in large western European countries.

The new learning of the Renaissance greatly influenced Oxford from the late 15th century onwards. Among university scholars of the period were William Grocyn, who contributed to the revival of Greek language studies, and John Colet, the noted biblical scholar.

With the English Reformation and the breaking of communion with the Roman Catholic Church, recusant scholars from Oxford fled to continental Europe, settling especially at the University of Douai. The method of teaching at Oxford was transformed from the medieval scholastic method to Renaissance education, although institutions associated with the university suffered losses of land and revenues. As a centre of learning and scholarship, Oxford’s reputation declined in the Age of Enlightenment; enrollments fell and teaching was neglected.

In 1636, William Laud, the chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, codified the university’s statutes. These, to a large extent, remained its governing regulations until the mid-19th century. Laud was also responsible for the granting of a charter securing privileges for The University Press, and he made significant contributions to the Bodleian Library, the main library of the university. From the beginnings of the Church of England as the established church until 1866, membership of the church was a requirement to receive the BA degree from the university and “dissenters” were only permitted to receive the MA in 1871.

The university was a centre of the Royalist party during the English Civil War (1642–1649), while the town favored the opposing Parliamentarian cause. From the mid-18th century onwards, however, the university took little part in political conflicts.

Wadham College, founded in 1610, was the undergraduate college of Sir Christopher Wren. Wren was part of a brilliant group of experimental scientists at Oxford in the 1650s, the Oxford Philosophical Club, which included Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. This group held regular meetings at Wadham under the guidance of the college’s Warden, John Wilkins, and the group formed the nucleus that went on to found the Royal Society.

Before reforms in the early 19th century, the curriculum at Oxford was notoriously narrow and impractical. Sir Spencer Walpole, a historian of contemporary Britain and a senior government official, had not attended any university. He said, “Few medical men, few solicitors, few persons intended for commerce or trade, ever dreamed of passing through a university career.” He quoted the Oxford University Commissioners in 1852 stating: “The education imparted at Oxford was not such as to conduce to the advancement in life of many persons, except those intended for the ministry.” Nevertheless, Walpole argued:

“Among the many deficiencies attending a university education there was, however, one good thing about it, and that was the education which the undergraduates gave themselves. It was impossible to collect some thousand or twelve hundred of the best young men in England, to give them the opportunity of making acquaintance with one another, and full liberty to live their lives in their own way, without evolving in the best among them, some admirable qualities of loyalty, independence, and self-control. If the average undergraduate carried from university little or no learning, which was of any service to him, he carried from it a knowledge of men and respect for his fellows and himself, a reverence for the past, a code of honor for the present, which could not but be serviceable. He had enjoyed opportunities… of intercourse with men, some of whom were certain to rise to the highest places in the Senate, in the Church, or at the Bar. He might have mixed with them in his sports, in his studies, and perhaps in his debating society; and any associations which he had this formed had been useful to him at the time, and might be a source of satisfaction to him in after life.”

Out of the students who matriculated in 1840, 65% were sons of professionals (34% were Anglican ministers). After graduation, 87% became professionals (59% as Anglican clergy). Out of the students who matriculated in 1870, 59% were sons of professionals (25% were Anglican ministers). After graduation, 87% became professionals (42% as Anglican clergy).

M. C. Curthoys and H. S. Jones argue that the rise of organized sport was one of the most remarkable and distinctive features of the history of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was carried over from the athleticism prevalent at the public schools such as Eton, Winchester, Shrewsbury, and Harrow.

All students, regardless of their chosen area of study, were required to spend (at least) their first year preparing for a first-year examination that was heavily focused on classical languages. Science students found this particularly burdensome and supported a separate science degree with Greek language study removed from their required courses. This concept of a Bachelor of Science had been adopted at other European universities (The University of London (UK) had implemented it in 1860) but an 1880 proposal at Oxford to replace the classical requirement with a modern language (like German or French) was unsuccessful. After considerable internal wrangling over the structure of the arts curriculum, in 1886 the “natural science preliminary” was recognized as a qualifying part of the first-year examination.

At the start of 1914, the university housed about 3,000 undergraduates and about 100 postgraduate students. During the First World War, many undergraduates and fellows joined the armed forces. By 1918 virtually all fellows were in uniform, and the student population in residence was reduced to 12 per cent of the pre-war total. The University Roll of Service records that, in total, 14,792 members of the university served in the war, with 2,716 (18.36%) killed. Not all the members of the university who served in the Great War were on the Allied side; there is a remarkable memorial to members of New College who served in the German armed forces, bearing the inscription, ‘In memory of the men of this college who coming from a foreign land entered into the inheritance of this place and returning fought and died for their country in the war 1914–1918’. During the war years the university buildings became hospitals, cadet schools and military training camps.


Two parliamentary commissions in 1852 issued recommendations for Oxford and Cambridge. Archibald Campbell Tait, former headmaster of Rugby School, was a key member of the Oxford Commission; he wanted Oxford to follow the German and Scottish model in which the professorship was paramount. The commission’s report envisioned a centralized university run predominantly by professors and faculties, with a much stronger emphasis on research. The professional staff should be strengthened and better paid. For students, restrictions on entry should be dropped, and more opportunities given to poorer families. It called for an enlargement of the curriculum, with honors to be awarded in many new fields. Undergraduate scholarships should be open to all Britons. Graduate fellowships should be opened up to all members of the university. It recommended that fellows be released from an obligation for ordination. Students were to be allowed to save money by boarding in the city, instead of in a college.

The system of separate honor schools for different subjects began in 1802, with Mathematics and Literae Humaniores. Schools of “Natural Sciences” and “Law, and Modern History” were added in 1853. By 1872, the last of these had split into “Jurisprudence” and “Modern History”. Theology became the sixth honor school. In addition to these B.A. Honors degrees, the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) was, and still is, offered.

The mid-19th century saw the impact of the Oxford Movement (1833–1845), led among others by the future Cardinal John Henry Newman. The influence of the reformed model of German universities reached Oxford via key scholars such as Edward Bouverie Pusey, Benjamin Jowett and Max Müller.

Administrative reforms during the 19th century included the replacement of oral examinations with written entrance tests, greater tolerance for religious dissent, and the establishment of four women’s colleges. Privy Council decisions in the 20th century (e.g. the abolition of compulsory daily worship, dissociation of the Regius Professorship of Hebrew from clerical status, diversion of colleges’ theological bequests to other purposes) loosened the link with traditional belief and practice. Furthermore, although the university’s emphasis had historically been on classical knowledge, its curriculum expanded during the 19th century to include scientific and medical studies. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required for admission until 1920, and Latin until 1960.

The University of Oxford began to award doctorates for research in the first third of the 20th century. The first Oxford D.Phil. in mathematics was awarded in 1921.

The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and communism, relocating to Oxford.

The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford is long and includes many who have made major contributions to politics, the sciences, medicine, and literature. As of October 2020, 72 Nobel laureates and more than 50 world leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.

To be a member of the university, all students, and most academic staff, must also be a member of a college or hall. There are thirty-nine colleges of the University of Oxford (including Reuben College, planned to admit students in 2021) and six permanent private halls (PPHs), each controlling its membership and with its own internal structure and activities. Not all colleges offer all courses, but they generally cover a broad range of subjects.

The colleges are:

All-Souls College
Balliol College
Brasenose College
Christ Church College
Corpus-Christi College
Exeter College
Green-Templeton College
Harris-Manchester College
Hertford College
Jesus College
Keble College
Kellogg College
Linacre College
Lincoln College
Magdalen College
Mansfield College
Merton College
New College
Nuffield College
Oriel College
Pembroke College
Queens College
Reuben College
St-Anne’s College
St-Antony’s College
St-Catherines College
St-Cross College
St-Edmund-Hall College
St-Hilda’s College
St-Hughs College
St-John’s College
St-Peters College
Somerville College
Trinity College
University College
Wadham College
Wolfson College
Worcester College

The permanent private halls were founded by different Christian denominations. One difference between a college and a PPH is that whereas colleges are governed by the fellows of the college, the governance of a PPH resides, at least in part, with the corresponding Christian denomination. The six current PPHs are:

Campion Hall
Regent’s Park College
St Benet’s Hall
St-Stephen’s Hall
Wycliffe Hall

The PPHs and colleges join as the Conference of Colleges, which represents the common concerns of the several colleges of the university, to discuss matters of shared interest and to act collectively when necessary, such as in dealings with the central university. The Conference of Colleges was established as a recommendation of the Franks Commission in 1965.

Teaching members of the colleges (i.e., fellows and tutors) are collectively and familiarly known as dons, although the term is rarely used by the university itself. In addition to residential and dining facilities, the colleges provide social, cultural, and recreational activities for their members. Colleges have responsibility for admitting undergraduates and organizing their tuition; for graduates, this responsibility falls upon the departments. There is no common title for the heads of colleges: the titles used include Warden, Provost, Principal, President, Rector, Master and Dean.

Oxford is regularly ranked within the top 5 universities in the world and is currently ranked first in the world in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, as well as the Forbes’s World University Rankings. It held the number one position in The Times Good University Guide for eleven consecutive years, and the medical school has also maintained first place in the “Clinical, Pre-Clinical & Health” table of The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the past seven consecutive years. In 2021, it ranked sixth among the universities around the world by SCImago Institutions Rankings. The Times Higher Education has also recognised Oxford as one of the world’s “six super brands” on its World Reputation Rankings, along with The University of California-Berkeley, The University of Cambridge (UK), Harvard University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University. The university is fifth worldwide on the US News ranking. Its Saïd Business School came 13th in the world in The Financial Times Global MBA Ranking.
Oxford was ranked ninth in the world in 2015 by The Nature Index, which measures the largest contributors to papers published in 82 leading journals. It is ranked fifth best university worldwide and first in Britain for forming CEOs according to The Professional Ranking World Universities, and first in the UK for the quality of its graduates as chosen by the recruiters of the UK’s major companies.

In the 2018 Complete University Guide, all 38 subjects offered by Oxford rank within the top 10 nationally meaning Oxford was one of only two multi-faculty universities (along with Cambridge) in the UK to have 100% of their subjects in the top 10. Computer Science, Medicine, Philosophy, Politics and Psychology were ranked first in the UK by the guide.

According to The QS World University Rankings by Subject, the University of Oxford also ranks as number one in the world for four Humanities disciplines: English Language and Literature, Modern Languages, Geography, and History. It also ranks second globally for Anthropology, Archaeology, Law, Medicine, Politics & International Studies, and Psychology.