Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

The beginning of our universe has long raised profound philosophical questions.

How do we get here? What causes the sun or stars to move? If time had a beginning, what was there before that beginning?

These are all great questions, and the answers have historically been provided by both spiritual and scientific means. Both types of responses bring great value and continue to play a role for humanity.

The Milky Way above the tree line at night.

Our human brains have difficulty understanding and rationalizing complexities. We try to take complex knowledge and relate it to something that is simpler, but the universe is not that easy to simplify.

It may even be that our brains are not wired in such a way that such simplification is possible.

An expanding universe

However, scientists have found a way to describe the universe in all its complexity and magnificence in a language that does justice to the challenge: the language of mathematics.

Mathematical models, used by scientific theorists, have greatly advanced our understanding of the universe. However, there is still much more to discover and learn.

A graph that represents the waves that are visible to the human eye.

Using the science of observation and the language of mathematics, cosmologists showed that our universe is expanding and that the rate of expansion is actually increasing (meaning that the universe is getting larger at an ever-increasing rate). ).

If we reverse the math and turn back the clock, we find that the universe would have started at an incredibly small point (scientists refer to this as a singularity) about 13.82 billion years ago.

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Back then, all matter, energy, space and time would have been enveloped in the singularity, and it would have been extraordinarily hot!

When it “erupted” (known as the “Big Bang”), our universe began to develop and time began.

The expansion of the universe caused it to cool, in the same way that opening a car door in winter allows the heat inside the car to escape. About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough to allow light to escape from hydrogen atoms. This light flooded everywhere and the universe could now “see.”

I see the light!

As the universe continued to expand, the wavelength of this early light stretched and shifted toward the microwave part of the spectrum.

tree in front of the stars and the milky way at night

It was the detection of these microwaves coming from all parts of the sky that led astronomers to the inevitable conclusion that the Big Bang theory was the best explanation.

Today, we have sent several spacecraft to study the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation in more detail.

The CMB represents an echo of the state of the universe shortly after the Big Bang. Scientists studying the CMB have found small variations in temperature everywhere they have looked.

These variations indicate differences in density (redder indicates denser and probably warmer regions, and bluer indicates sparser and colder regions).

The denser regions would eventually form the galaxies and galaxy clusters, while the bluer regions would form large voids found between the galaxy clusters.

CMB image inside the galaxy.  There are red, yellow and blue segments.Collaboration between the European Space Agency and Planck

Want to watch the WBC yourself?

It’s actually pretty easy to do.

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If you turn on your TV to a station that has no signal, you should hear what is often called “noise” (unfortunately, many of the newer, smarter TVs don’t allow this). About 1% of that noise is actually microwaves disrupting the signal!

So the next time signal problems prevent you from watching your favorite show, delight in watching evidence of the origins of the universe!