A few weeks ago, on a long car trip home, I broke the backseat about-to-fight tension by asking my children how the world was made. Might as well throw them a biggie.
“There was a big blow up”, said one, “An explosion. And everything broke up and a bit of it made a ball and that’s Earth, and then the trees and stuff fell down on the Earth too, and everything else. I think.” By this stage his tone was less confident. “Don’t you know this Mum?”
And I had to say no not really actually. There was some sort of big bang but other than that I’m actually shamefully dunce when it comes to the biggest question of all. I probably learnt it once, although my school was pretty Goddy so probably a bit anti-bang in favour of God having a particularly productive week but I don’t think I’ll go there. Mostly I go about walking (sometimes stomping) about on the Earth getting all busy and inward with narry a thought for the miracle of it all. Time I did think about how amazing ’tis the universe. Narry isn’t used enough, I’m bringing it back. Along with whole-room wallpaper.
Then my youngest piped up with, “Mum, can you tell us again about when the Titanic ran into the Tasman Bridge because the driver had too many beers?” And that was the end of the creation conversation because I clearly had to move on.
But I’m still bothered by the big bang thing, so join me as I embark on a cosmic knowledge quest…
WHAT IS THE BIG BANG THEORY?
Well the answer to that had befuddled my brain and caused the extended Megoracle silence (this shit takes some getting one’s head around). In all honesty, when I look at the theory itself without all the brainy-person credibility, I find it about as believable as The God Thing. EVERYTHING came from a teeny weeny particle? Really? But anyway, I will press on and keep it as simple as possible. Off we go…
Cosmology finds that the universe didn’t, contrary to my son’s take on it, explode into existence. The term “Big Bang” was actually coined in scoffy tones by those who opposed the theory. But there was no bang. More like a whisper.
Approximately 13.8 billion years ago, the universe was contained within a single, dense and very hot point. The heat triggered expansion which allowed the universe to cool enough for subatomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons). After a few more thousand year’s worth of expansion, the first atoms came into being, evolution began and hey presto, 13.8 billion years later we are building micro computers and worrying about the battery life of our phones. WHO CAME UP WITH SUCH A SEEMINGLY IMPOSSIBLE THEORY?
It was first hunched at in the 1920’s by Russian Mathematician Alexander Alexandrovich Friedmann, who along with Belgian Catholic priest and scientist Georges Lemaitre, tabled that a universe controlled by the theory of relativity would have to expand or contract. In 1929, Edwin Hubble (of telescope fame) was inspecting the light emitted from other galaxies when he noted that the light was “red shifted” which, as opposed to “blue shifted”, means that the source of the light is moving away.
This means that Lemaitre was able to conclude that the distant galaxies are moving away from the Earth – i.e. the universe is expanding. He published his theory which in turn helped to measure (based on the speed of the galactic movement – can I say galactic? It sounds cool so I will) how much time has passed since the universe was together as one.
SO HOW DID THE HOT, DENSE MATTER GET THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE, i.e. BEFORE TIME?
Well this is what you might call a cosmic quandary. There are many theories. Einstein thought it likely that before expansion took place, time simply stood still. Others say that the singularity or point from which the universe expanded just sprang into being. Other theories include:
- That universe creation is cyclical and we will one day collapse back in on ourselves and cause another ‘bang’ that will create another universe. I suspect if this is true that pollutey humans have given the process a bit of a boost.
- That the universe is the offspring of an older and bigger universe and that one day ours will throw off others too.
- That our universe was the result of the creation of a black hole – meaning we are formed from the bit that used to be where the hole is. These theorists believe that there are likely to be other universes in other black holes.
- That in another realm a group of giants were playing soccer with a medicine ball and one of them kicked it so hard it flew out of the stratosphere and was left so long it went mouldy and attracted flies which evolved into the world as we know it now. That’s My Theory, strongly supported by this ancient cave painting. I’m not sure who Ed is, must be an early humanoid.
Apart from Hubble’s Red Shift (Hubble’s Law), there is also the Cosmic Microwave Background. This is the heat left behind by the rapid expansion or big bang. It was been successfully measured by orbiting detectors in the 60’s. The 60’s and cosmic microwaves? Sounds a bit sus to me.
The abundance of “light elements” hydogen and helium in the observable universe are also thought to support the big bang theory.
I’d move on to the Hedron Collider and the Higgs Bosun but my brain is hurting and I can’t make head or tail of whether those things support the big bang or not. I’ve done my particle physics for this month (year). Anyone? If you can shed light on that in a sentence I’ll write a haiku about you.
In short, Big Bang is the best explanation we have so far, or at least the most popular. It still, however, has it critics, its flaws and its uknowns.
In conclusion, this is just scratching the cosmic surface and as always I am open to corrections/additions from brainy people, but I feel better having a bit of a grasp on the most likely theory as to why I’m sitting here right now. Well better in some ways. In other ways I just feel very very small. I mean 13.8 billion years – that, in the scheme of it all, shrinks the existence of homo sapiens into a little sliver on the timeline. And my life into a blip on the sliver.
There goes Meg, a blip on the sliver.
Life is short people, make the very most. xx