I briefly review the cosmological constant problem and the issue of dark energy (or quintessence). Within the framework of quantum field theory, the vacuum expectation value of the energy momentum tensor formally diverges as k4. A cutoff at the Planck or electroweak scale leads to a cosmological constant which is, respectively, 10123 or 1055 times larger than the observed value, Λ/8πG ≃ 10-47 GeV4. The absence of a fundamental symmetry which could set the value of Λ to either zero or a very small value leads to the cosmological constant problem. Most cosmological scenarios favour a large time-dependent Λ-term in the past (in order to generate inflation at z ≫ 1010), and a small Λ-term today, to account for the current acceleration of the universe at z <~ 1. Constraints arising from cosmological nucleosynthesis, CMB and structure formation constrain Λ to be sub-dominant during most of the intermediate epoch 1010 < z < 1. This leads to the cosmic coincidence conundrum which suggests that the acceleration of the universe is a recent phenomenon and that we live during a special epoch when the density in Λ and in matter are almost equal. Time varying models of dark energy can, to a certain extent, ameliorate the fine-tuning problem (faced by Λ), but do not resolve the puzzle of cosmic coincidence. I briefly review tracker models of dark energy, as well as more recent brane inspired ideas and the issue of horizons in an accelerating universe. Model independent methods which reconstruct the cosmic equation of state from supernova observations are also assessed. Finally, a new diagnostic of dark energy - statefinder - is discussed.
Classical and Quantum Gravity
- Pub Date:
- July 2002
- General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology;
- High Energy Physics - Phenomenology
- Minor typo's corrected, references added and updated. 15 pages, 5 figures. Invited review at ``The Early Universe and Cosmological Observations: a Critical Review'', UCT, Cape Town, July 2001, to appear in "Classical and Quantum Gravity"