The Universe; as far as we know is all there is

By Maria Anna van Driel,

It is only a stone’s throw into mankind’s history that we had no idea there were other galaxies besides our own. It was thought that humanity and the galaxy we inhabit was an island adrift in a universe of a hundred billion stars. And even the universe itself is one of the great unexplained wonders of human history, we now know that our universe is a vast dynamic cauldron of activity and home to one hundred billion galaxies all racing away within a boiling ocean of space-time.

To understand the enormousness of the universe and how it made all the raw material we see here on earth, we need to take an incredible journey and travel back through space and time to the moment our universe was born. We need to go back to the very beginning, to a time when there was nothing…no stars, no space just a time before there was time. Then, all of a sudden it started in an instantaneous moment where from nothing our entire universe was created in the Big Bang.  

Violently it grew from smaller than the size of an atom to the size of a baseball. In cosmic terms that is like a grain of sand growing almost to the size of the observable universe. And even it has been around for a finite amount of time roughly 13 and 1/2 billion years; it looks pretty much the same everywhere actually. On very large scales the universe is actually a pretty simple place.

Nevertheless, the universe is a very, very big place and it is getting bigger. But how big is the visible universe? And why does it not agree with its own age? For finding an answer to these questions I plowed through an avalanche of articles provided by the internet and came to a halt at a You Tube video from Dr. Don Lincoln who is a senior scientist from Fermilab and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame (USA). 

“There are lots of tricky ways to think about that, but let’s start with perhaps the most obvious. Time and space are inextricably intertwined when we talk about how far away things are. This is especially true when we talk about large scale structures of the universe.” Dr. Lincoln explains in his video If the universe is only 14 billion years old, how can it be 92 billion light years wide?’

“When the universe began, Dr. Lincoln continues, it was filled with light which then travelled through the cosmos. And, if the universe began 13.7 billion years ago and we’re just now seeing it arrive, it had to have traveled 13.7 billion light years before it hit Earth. Astronomers can actually see light from shortly after the universe began. It’s called the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (CMB) and it’s the oldest thing we’ve ever seen.”

The cosmic microwave background is thought to be leftover radiation from the Big Bang, or the time when the universe ground. As the theory goes, when the universe was born it’s underwent a rapid inflation and expansion.

Since astronomers have seen the rapid velocity space is expanding with, it became a natural question to ask, “What is it expanding into?” No matter how deeply we peer into the cosmos, we cannot see a boundary and so far science has uncovered no evidence that a boundary exists. Space may extend to infinity or it may not, but in Einstein’s universe things can be curved. And if things can be curved they can be curved in on themselves or around any object it is countering. Odd as it might sound, but space itself might be twisting and bending its content to shape the universe and to virtually anything imaginable.

It seems that general relativity makes it, in some way, possible to live in an infinite universe with no boundary at all whereby space-time is suddenly not a static entity; it is a dynamic and ever-changing fabric within which the locations of all galaxies are woven. Galaxies are not themselves moving very much, but they appear to move to us because of new cosmic real-estate continually injected increasing their distance from us. Is this creation of new space-time and the rate at which it is being created, determines how fast a galaxy appears to be moving away from us?

“One day, the expansion of the universe will make it so that almost all of the galaxies we see in our telescopes today, which I remind you now we’re seeing as they were in the distant past, will slip from our view”, Dr. Lincoln says. “We will one day only be able to see galaxies from our local group, meaning the Milky Way, Andromeda, and a few dozen minor galaxies in the vicinity.”

There is still one big question we need to answer before we can start thinking about what the cause could be for this expansion. How do we know space is expanding? Well, science gathered a lot of data to back up the claim of space expanding. The Planck Telescope really came through but the most famous is probably the red-shift of light. But there is another source scientists are thinking of being the cause of the universe expanding and that is Dark energy.

“It turns out that the simplest calculation isn’t quite right, Dr Lincoln explains, you see, about five billion years ago, an energy field that we call dark energy became important. Dark energy is a repulsive form of gravity, which means that the expansion of the universe isn’t slowing down, it’s accelerating. That, of course, means that after 9 billion years of the expansion of space slowing down, it’s now speeding up.”

Now, while we may think of our galaxy as just an island or not, scientists have yet discovered that this whimsical place, containing subatomic particles showing the most bizarre behaviors when they meet, ‘stuff’- what is there but then is not- and black holes consuming cosmic debris like a whale swallowing its daily portion of plankton, is much larger than is ever thought. Still, after many centuries this rapidly expanding place remains a mystery. And even physics has come an enormous way; it has yet not provided a real way for us to ever look anywhere, but within it. It seems we simply cannot wrap our minds around this enormous dark cosmic freezer we are swirling in as well as none have yet not found a way to state if it might have boundaries or none at all.

Every culture, every age has asked the question and tried to answer it. It is one of the greatest adventures of the human mind to find out where we came from, where we are and of course, in the end, where we are going. It seems we are captured by medusa’s gaze when it comes down to unraveling the mysteries of this really, really big dark place of which its size and age seem not to agree with each other. And so, like a young caterpillar awaiting that miraculous and magical moment of unfolding its wings, we are cocooned from understanding what is perhaps the greatest question facing the human race what is to discover; Where do we come from and what is our ultimate fate.

Comments are closed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *