Missing cosmic sources elude astrophysicists

The universe is bright but are they in the Dark?


Published: September 4, 2014

Using computer simulations, researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have determined that in the intergalactic medium (IGM)—the space between galaxies—there is actually more light being emitted than there should be by a factor of 400%.1 The light observed coming from the ionized hydrogen atoms in the IGM is five times more than there should be.

Simulations of the early big bang universe agree with the amount of light generated by sources observed at those epochs, but they widely disagree with the universe we observe much closer to home, in the low-redshift universe, meaning much more recent in its alleged history.


An artist’s impression of a quasar. There are just not enough of them to account for interstellar light, say researchers.
Credit: NASA/ESA1

Cosmologists have this problem because they assume that along with active star-forming galaxies, quasars—extremely active galaxy-sized objects, which emit a lot of radiation and often have large redshifts—are the main sources to have photo-ionized the IGM. This is because they assume that having large redshifts means that they are predominantly the occupants of the early universe, from which all normal galaxies that we see at low redshifts ultimately are supposed to have evolved. It is this initial big bang model assumption which brings them unstuck.

The logic goes like this: Quasars, and to a much lesser extent star-forming galaxies, emitted most of the radiation into the intergalactic medium in the early universe, particularly the UV light used as an indicator of the sources, which ionize the neutral hydrogen. The ionized hydrogen emits radiation at characteristic wavelengths—especially at the Hα wavelength of 656.281 nm, which is visible red light. So this is the easiest way for astronomers to detect the ionized hydrogen content of gas clouds in the IGM.

Neutral hydrogen molecules are very difficult to see as they do not emit much of anything.2

Only if they are dissociated into single hydrogen atoms can astronomers detect the characteristic 21cm line at microwave frequencies. But if they are ionized they emit at the characteristic optical wavelengths that atomic physics tells us they should. Depending on the redshift of the hydrogen absorbers, this line is shifted accordingly. Nevertheless it is well understood (so it is believed) and easily identified.

So one study carried out a survey of the low-redshift (i.e. nearby) universe. They added up all the visible hydrogen emission in the intergalactic medium, then compared that with simulations, based on what would be expected in a big bang ΛCDM universe,3 making the usual assumptions on Dark Matter and Dark Energy content etc. See also Claimed dark matter ‘find’ won’t help end ‘big bang’ crisis.

The model fits the high-redshift observational data of the cosmic ultra-violet background (UVB) but is seriously in error with the low-redshift UVB. The problem they encountered is described by Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier, lead author of the study, in a letter in The Astrophysical Journal4 titled ‘The Photon Underproduction Crisis’, in which she said:

“It’s as if you’re in a big, brightly lit room, but you look around and see only a few 40-watt light bulbs….Where is all that light coming from? It’s missing from our census.”1

They are really talking about the value of their so-called state-of-the-art models to describe the production and evolution of the UVB light generated from distant sources, which photo-ionizes hydrogen in the intergalactic medium, and the comparison with recent observations from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). In their paper, they admit that one possibility to resolve this is that their

“…theoretical understanding of the low-redshift universe is in need of substantial revision.”4

So to solve this, what do some suggest? Dark matter! Dark matter particles which we can’t see provide the extra source of radiation that ionizes the IGM. One of the authors of the study said, 5

“You know it’s a crisis when you start seriously talking about decaying dark matter.” (emphasis added)

And another, David Weinberg, said,4

“The great thing about a 400 per cent discrepancy is that you know something is really wrong.” (emphasis added)

That is self-evident. But would any of them consider that maybe they have started with the wrong foundation? Instead, leading astrophysicists speculate that the missing photons that ionize the IGM could be coming from an “exotic new source”.1 They would rather invent some new physics or invoke invisible decaying Dark Matter to solve their dark source problem. I suggest it is they who are totally left in the dark.


We observe a local (low-redshift) universe that is five times brighter than it should be according to conventional big bang ΛCDM model wisdom. Yes, it is a research problem. I have nothing against that, but it is now a new irony that what is missing is not something tangible but the ‘darkness’ itself, because the universe in between the galaxies is too bright. That is, it should be darker; so where is that ‘darkness’?

Instead of considering dumping the problematic model, and going back to the drawing board, or consulting the revelation of the One Who knows, they propose decaying Dark Matter to be the missing source that causes the intergalactic medium to be so illuminated. The tapestry was flawed long ago—it only grows worse with time. The universe is bright but the world is all in the ‘Dark’.

References and notes

  1. Knapton, S., Where has all the light in the universe gone?, 9 July 2014; telegraph.co.uk. Return to text.
  2. For this reason the cosmologists speak of the Dark Ages in alleged cosmic history. See Hartnett, J.G., Inflation—all in the Dark , 31 July 2014; creation.com/inflation-all-in-the-dark. Return to text.
  3. Λ represents the cosmological constant, nowadays meaning Dark Energy, and CDM represents Cold Dark Matter. Both of these are necessary fudge factors needed in the standard model. Return to text.
  4. Kollmeier, J. A. et al., The Photon Underproduction Crisis, ApJ 789(2): L32, 2014; available at arxiv.org/pdf/1404.2933v1.pdf. Return to text.
  5. Franco, M., Universe’s missing photon sources baffle scientists, 10 July 2014; cnet.com. Return to text.
Knapton, S.,
For this reason the cosmologists speak of the Dark Ages in alleged cosmic history. See Hartnett, J.G.,
Λ represents the cosmological constant, nowadays meaning Dark Energy, and CDM represents Cold Dark Matter. Both of these are necessary fudge factors needed in the standard model.
Kollmeier, J. A. et al., The Photon Underproduction Crisis, ApJ 789(2): L32, 2014; available at
Franco, M.,

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Readers’ comments
Jack L., United States, 4 September 2014
I'm shocked they haven't yet proposed "Light Matter" an invisible thing that emits light but is otherwise undetectable. In fact, it immediately must be studied with serious grant money now to allow creation of labs and multiple staff support.
Hans G., Australia, 4 September 2014
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Who is he? Who gives light? The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is the lamp.
Matt T., United States, 4 September 2014
It's as if those who research this subject concerning our universe around us but refuse to acknowledge a creator, have dug a hole of theory contrary to God so deep they truly can not see daylight any longer.
Michael K., United States, 4 September 2014
Is there a link to an article of why we think this phenomenon exists? I understand that their model is flawed, but I don't feel like I understand what Creation Ministries thinks the answer is. Just because we are talking about 'light' and 'dark' doesn't mean that every verse with those words are relevant to this issue ( as some will be tempted comment in this way, although some verses may be relevant ) and so I'm looking not only for the reason why they are wrong ( which the article states ) but what our answer would be and how we can explain it's workings.
John Hartnett responds
This has been a discovery based on observations, and a comparison was made to the early universe based on the modelling of big bang cosmology. The point expressed by the authors of the original research is that they do not know why this discrepancy has occurred. The reason to publish an article like this is two-fold. 1. To show that the standard model, which has become the ruling paradigm, is not so strong as an explanation of the structure and history of the universe, therefore why trust it on origins. 2. To show the nature of the thinking, where authors will grab for 'dark matter' as a solution to the problem before they ever consider rejecting the ruling paradigm. Scripture tells us to expose and correct error. The big bang undermines the thinking of some Christians and we need to correct that--show them that the big bang is not a good description of what we observe. The darkness here of course is the wrong thinking which does not come from God. Hence the use of those words (dark, light) as metaphors.
David S., United States, 4 September 2014
Curious...would allowing quasars, for example, to be closer help resolve the problem?
John Hartnett responds
Good suggestion.
Kenneth L., Canada, 4 September 2014
Thanks, Dr. Hartnett, for another glimpse of the trouble the Big Bang theory is in scientifically. As more and more discrepancies between the BB theory and evidence derived from observation come to light (pun unintended but fortuitous), it becomes more and more obvious that the Big Bang theory is simply wrong. The more I become aware of this evidence and of the appeals of the proponents of the BB theory to the Tooth Fairy for its salvation, the more I am reminded of the Ptolemaic model of the cosmos and that the same basic scenario unfolded with it. That is to say, it also had a history of increasing discrepancy between theory and observation, and increasing reliance on fudge factors to prop it up, until its proponents finally had to be admit that the theory was simply wrong. How long can the Big Bang continue this same trajectory toward oblivion before it actually arrives there and is admitted to be simply wrong by the majority of secular cosmologists?
John Hartnett responds
Ideology is a strong motivation. The big bang is believed more by blind faith than by facts. It is like biological evolution, which is believed to be the true history of the living things on earth. Really it is all about a philosophical belief system and scientism.
Stephen T., United States, 4 September 2014
To your knowledge, are any YECs running the simulation based on a 6000 year time frame? If the results were to match what we observe, would it be a particularly strong argument to use?
John Hartnett responds
I don't know of anyone doing that. But one simple suggestion might be that the big bang based model is wrong. They first apply their model to the high redshift universe and it matches, and then apply the same model to the low redshift universe and it does not match. Maybe the model was designed around what they observe at what is believed to be high redshift, meaning the early universe. Maybe the high redshift IGM data is not as they expect representative of the early universe, and the quasars may not be at their redshift distances according to the Hubble Law. Certainly we can say the big bang models fails again.
R. R., United States, 5 September 2014
Could this finding affect measurements of the speed of light in the universe, either in the past or presently?
John Hartnett responds
The speed of light would affect the intensity of light observed but other observable physics at those redshifts would be a good indicator of the local speed of light.
Mike D., United States, 6 September 2014
It is pretty clear from Genesis 1:1-3, 14-19 that light was created by God before those "objects (or now 'dark matter) that emit light." Ironically the "speed" of light seems to be then means by which Cosmologists measure distances. And yet light existed everywhere on the first day. Thus, on the 4th day, all the "lights" that God created were instantly visible. It IS a pity that those committed to the scientific model cannot see the science of God's word. We must pray for them with the hope that they will come to understand that. In introducing Jesus as God's Word, John wrote, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Jn. 1:4-5. This might be a great moment to provide a caring and compassionate model based on God's word and the visible evidence of its authenticity - so some of those trapped in this elaborate and very intellectually complicated delusion, may begin to rethink their perceptions based on the very brief and keenly appropriate words of Genesis and John's Gospel. Thank you, for all you do - it is SO helpful. In Christ, Mike Dill