The universe is a cosmic mystery.
At least that’s what the scientists are saying, and I tend to agree.
All of our investigation into the nature of the universe and we still don’t have an answer. Where did all of this come from? The matter, the space, the particles, the us… why is it even here?
Well as you may know, astronomers and physicists around the world have been working on these very questions for a very long time. It comes as no surprise we don’t have a full understanding of the world we live in because we’ve only been around for just a fraction of the time the universe as we know it has been here. There are still mysteries of the universe we don’t even know about yet, stuff that can’t even be comprehended by our primitive minds.
But, what is it that we do know? What is our working knowledge of the world we live in today?
From the fanning galaxies to the tiniest elementary particles – what can science tell us? About the origins of the universe, all the stuff in it that we see, and all the stuff we don’t see?
Lawrence Krauss seeks to answer theses questions in his New York Times Bestseller, A Universe From Nothing.
Our understanding of the universe we are living in has changed so much over the generations. Back in Einstein’s day we were just picking up clues as to how things work. In fact, the genius himself was always coming up with formulas and experiments to try to explain observation, but even he came up with theories that didn’t seem to describe the reality in which our eyes were set.
General relativity was his best idea yet, despite its disagreements with the apparent static universe we had been observing. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the universe is not static, and that it has in fact been expanding at an increasing rate since its spontaneous generation 13.7 billion years ago.
“Equally important,” Krauss says “we know that our galaxy is merely one of perhaps 400 billion galaxies in the observable universe.” This means “We are like the early terrestrial mapmakers, just beginning to fully map the universe on its largest scales. Little wonder that recent decades have witnessed revolutionary changes on our picture of the universe.”
Our planet is but a speck of dust compared to the larger universe we find ourselves suspended in. Its full of other stars and galaxies and maybe even other planets like ours, harboring life and consciousness and all the fun things we think of when we dream about visiting these distant alien worlds.
What’s even crazier is that that the matter and energy from an alien sun would likely effect the alien life itself.
As Lawrence Krauss put it, “One of the most important discoveries in astronomy was that star stuff and Earth stuff are largely the same.”
Our biological make-up is allowed via energy from the sun in a way that can carry out different functions and tasks in order to improve our day to day lives (you know, survival and reproduction). What if alien life is totally different from ours because of their sun’s effect on their biological and information processing?! That would be wild, and it’s an idea scientists are starting to take seriously.
But wherever you are in the universe, whatever your biological make up, it appears that just that is all that matters.
Well in a sense.
You see, you are the center of the universe.
At least that’s what Hubble tells us by reading the distance and velocity with which other galaxies are moving away from us.
You can see this for yourself in an experiment that changes your vantage point (in this case our galaxy) to show the distance between you and other galaxies, and how their position relative to you changes across space. Do this by imaging a group of dots and imposing it over another larger image of a group of dots with equal space between the dots themselves.
“Depending upon your perspective” Krauss says, “either every place is the center of the universe, or no place is. It doesn’t matter; Hubble’s law is consistent with a universe that is expanding.”
Cool stuff like this is always happening within our universe. Supernovae for example, the death of a star by cataclysmic explosion, are happening all that time, but are very rare to independent galaxies. To put this in perspective, Krauss suggests going out on a starry night and making a circle with your finger and thumb and holding it up to the sky to act like a captive lens of sorts, picking up supernovae right there in your hand!
“In this dark patch” Krauss explains, “with a large enough telescope of the type we now have in service today, you could discern perhaps 100,000 galaxies, each containing billions of stars. Since supernovae explode once per hundred years per galaxy, with 100,00 galaxies in view, you should expect to see, on average, about three stars explode on a given night.”
There are a lot of amazing things that happen within our universe, but all of this just seems to beg the question.
Where did it all come from? Why is it even here?
Well the short answer is, nowhere.
After weighing the universe and taking into account the energy of empty space, the data suggests that our universe is just a by-product of a quantum fluctuation of sorts.
“The existence of energy in empty space – the discovery that rocked our cosmological universe and the idea that forms the bedrock of inflation – only reinforces something about the quantum world that was already well established in the context of the kinds of laboratory experiments I have already described. Empty space is complicated. It is a boiling brew of virtual particles that pop into and out of existence in a time so short we cannot see them directly”
What’s so interesting about these virtual particles is that when we’re not measuring them. they seem to be everywhere but in one place. They shoot from point to point in all possible states – even backwards in time it seems – including states that would not be possible had the quantum system been measured. This is very spooky action indeed, and has game changing implications about the physical world around us. This real-magic applies to you too! But what’s even more interesting is that these “quantum fluctuations” imply something essential about the quantum world: nothing always produces something, if only for an instant.”
Could our universe just be a huge system sprang into existence for a cosmic instant, but what appears to us to be a grand eternity? An infinity of sorts? Who knows?
“But here’s the rub” Krauss continues, “The conversation of energy tells us that quantum systems can misbehave for only so long. Like embezzling stockbrokers, if the state that a system fluctuates into requires sneaking some energy from empty space, then the system has to return that energy in a time short enough so that no one measuring the system can detect it.
As a result, you might presume to safely argue that this “something” that is produced quantum fluctuations is ephemeral – not measurable, unlike, say, you or I or the Earth on which we live. But this ephemeral creation, too, is subject to the circumstances associated with our measurements.”
The mystery of the universe is still being investigated by particle and theoretical physicists across the globe. The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator/collider known to man, is currently making waves in the scientific community by popping new elementary particles into existence for research and insight into the vast mystery that is the universe.