Will the “massive gravity” theory solve the biggest puzzles of the Universe?

The award-winning Physicist whose first working model was published back in 2011 is finally gaining some traction

Faisal Khan
Feb 3 · 3 min read

Despite a lot of scientists being at odds with the big bang theory, it is still considered as the most viable explanation behind the creation of the universe. The controversial theory suggests that everything came into being from a huge explosion that sent out particles flying from a singularity eventually forming all the matter that we see in the universe today.

Our understanding of the universe till recently, according to Einstein’s theory of general relativity was that the universe was expanding ever since the explosion of the big bang, but it should eventually begin to slow down expansion under the influence of the gravitational forces of all the objects in the universe. However, a couple of decades go, scientists realized that the universe was actually not slowing down but accelerating.

The cause of this acceleration was attributed to the opposing force which is now dubbed as the “dark energy” & makes up about 70% of the universe— the rest being another unknown which is termed as the “dark matter”, constitutes about 25% of the known universe. The only problem is that both these forces are still largely unknown. In spite of the best efforts of the astronomers, they are a mystery.

Prof Claudia de Rham, a British theoretical physicist at Imperial College London is now pioneering a new radical theory in trying to explain this anomaly. She is attempting to tweak Einstein’s theory of general relativity. which basically eliminates the need for dark energy to explain the accelerating universe.

“It would be amazing if it was shown to be right, that may or may not happen, but what will happen is that we’ll have a much better fundamental understanding of gravity and that’s just something so deep, it’s one of the big questions today.” ~ Prof. Claudia de Rham

The theory proposes a change to Einstein’s theory of general relativity: wherein the latter suggests massless hypothetical particles (gravitons), the former implies that they have mass. These are the same particles that are considered to be providing the opposing force of gravity. This means that the effect of gravity would be minimized on larger cosmic distances, thus explaining the acceleration of the universe, without the need for dark energy.

However, this is not her first attempt at creating a “massive gravity” model. Back in 2011, she and her colleagues published a revolutionary paper on the subject. Just like other studies & related research, there was a lot of back & forth for the next 5–6 years, with arguments and counter-arguments & peer reviews, eventually leading to a $100,000 (£75,000) Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists last week. This is two years after her winning the Adams prize — one of the University of Cambridge’s oldest and most prestigious awards.

Needless to say that the theory seems to be gaining some traction finally with these acknowledgments from important academic circles. While Prof. De Rham is certain that the mathematics checks out, she is cautiously optimistic about it holding in the real world. Her expectation is that the advances in gravitational-wave astronomy should be able to test the theoretical predictions in the coming years.

If in fact, this theory eventually does check out, it might provide a major breakthrough in the century-old quest to find answers to the greatest unknowns.

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Faisal Khan

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