Forty-two: a layman's view of it all

Michael
Michael Johansen
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When spring is supposed to be in the air, but instead wet snow keeps falling from the sky, where can a middle-aged man's fancies turn except to the creation of the universe?
What with being surrounded by environmental catastrophes, with pointless wars and with incompetent politicians like those running our governments, a person needs to contemplate things that are beyond human control just to maintain some sanity in this world.
The universe is very old and no one was around when it started. Fortunately, many scientists are on the case, piecing together what evidence they can find to provide a picture of what likely happened 13-odd billion years ago and after. What they've come up with has been well known for decades: the so-called Big Bang.
The theory postulates that all the matter and energy of our universe was compacted into one point in space and it exploded outwards to eventually coalesce again into solar systems and galaxies.
However, as clear as that picture has become, a huge mystery remains. Scientists studying the question are like police officers who happen to be on hand to witness an explosive blast. They know there was a bomb at the centre of it because they can see what it did, but they don't yet know what the bomb looked like.

Back to beginning

Physicists have been able to trace the history of the universe back to within a few nanoseconds of when it started, but they don't have enough data to provide a picture of what existed in the nanosecond before the Big Bang. Even the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland - as important as it will be for understanding the universe - can only recreate the fluxing conditions that existed shortly after the initial explosion. It can't tell us what caused it, or show us what was there beforehand.
That, of course, is not the only mystery scientists are examining. In the movies, black holes are usually depicted as huge celestial whirlpools, but in reality any attempt to picture them is bound to fail since the human eye is not capable of seeing them.
Like the Big Bang, scientists know black holes exist because they can see what they do. By all accounts, most black holes are created when large, aging stars implode rather than explode. Gravity - which most people become painfully familiar with as little children when they trip and fall - is a force that increases in strength when mass is added to the body that exerts it. A black hole is a body that becomes so massive not even light can withstand its gravitational force. As a result, scientists can see how it affects time and space around it, but they can't see what happens inside it.
Now, isn't that a coincidence? It only takes a short leap of imagination to see that the one mystery seems to mirror the other, that the Big Bang looks a lot like what would happen if matter and energy was compacted and propelled through a black hole from one space-time continuum into another.

Faster expansion

A recent discovery that the expansion of our universe may be accelerating, rather than slowing down, would seem to support this idea.
A single-event blast would not continue to provide a force that would push galaxies (or space itself) away at a faster and faster rate, but a black hole would, because it is always absorbing mass into the volumeless gravitational singularity postulated to be at the centre of it.
Such a theory, if true, opens up a huge realm for human imagination. If there are millions of galaxies, and thousands of black holes in each galaxy, how many other universes have been spawned by our own and what is the universe like that gave birth to the one we're in?
Speculations like this may have little practical use, but they do provide a measure of hope: with such an immense existence around us, even if we wipe ourselves off our tiny speck of a planet, life of some kind is bound to survive somewhere.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador, but currently in travel mode.

Geographic location: Switzerland, Labrador

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  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Don't make nice with space aliens , warns Stephen Hawking . There are billions of galaxies each holding hundreds of millions of stars. He says , to my mathematical brain , the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly normal . But they may be organisms living under the ice , or evolved resource-hungry travellers who've ruined their own planet .We only have to look at ourselves , he said to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet ------ Stephen Hawking --- McLean's .

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Don't make nice with space aliens , warns Stephen Hawking . There are billions of galaxies each holding hundreds of millions of stars. He says , to my mathematical brain , the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly normal . But they may be organisms living under the ice , or evolved resource-hungry travellers who've ruined their own planet .We only have to look at ourselves , he said to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet ------ Stephen Hawking --- McLean's .