Is the Universe homogeneous?

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Abstract

The standard model of cosmology is based on the existence of homogeneous surfaces as the background arena for structure formation. Homogeneity underpins both general relativistic and modified gravity models and is central to the way in which we interpret observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and the galaxy distribution. 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 directly observe and test for isotropy, but to link this to homogeneity we need to assume the Copernican principle (CP). First, we discuss the link between isotropic observations on the past light cone and isotropic space–time geometry: what observations do we need to be isotropic in order to deduce space–time isotropy? Second, we discuss what we can say with the Copernican assumption. The most powerful result is based on the CMB: the vanishing of the dipole, quadrupole and octupole of the CMB is sufficient to impose homogeneity. Real observations lead to near-isotropy on large scales—does this lead to near-homogeneity? There are important partial results, and we discuss why this remains a difficult open question. Thus, we are currently unable to prove homogeneity of the Universe on large scales, even with the CP. However, we can use observations of the cosmic microwave background, galaxies and clusters to test homogeneity itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5115-5137
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume369
Issue number1957
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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