Sunday, March 13, 2005
Name the universe
In the most recent issue of symmetry magazine, Joe Lykken talks about how physicists give names to the things they invent and discover, and he calls out cosmologists for their most embarrassing failure.
The cosmologists have the worst of both worlds. They are plagued by non-serious cutesy names, from the Big Bang all the way to Wimpzillas and the Cardassian Expansion. At the same time, they have decided to adopt the name Standard Model to refer to the currently favored cosmological scheme, apparently because their previous name, the "LambdaCDM Concordance Model" was even worse. Should we charge them a licensing fee?He's right, of course. We have this amazing model of the universe, with ordinary matter sprinkled lightly amidst the dark matter and dark energy, expanding in accordance with Einstein's equation from an initially hot, dense state. Using only physics we know, we can extrapolate back fourteen billion years to what the universe was doing when it was just a few seconds old, and make predictions that fit perfectly with observations. And yet we can't come up with a good name for the mode. ("The Preposterous Universe" is fun, but too cutesy. Likewise "the cosmic martini," in which ordinary matter is an olive, dark energy is the gin, and dark matter the vermouth. Too goofy, sorry.) The idea is to be both inspiring and descriptive without being silly. Any suggestions?