Astronomers today are in a unique position to experience a new reality, namely the impact of the Big Bang on our Universe.
When we look out in space we see things in the immediate past. Objects that we witness visually are about 1.4 seconds in the past. Looking at stars and other celestial objects permits us to view it going back about 9 minutes. If we look at our nearest star we’re witnessing it 4 years in the past. Viewing our nearest galaxy (Andromeda), its about 2 million years back. With the help of telescopes, we witness events that are 10 billion years old. If we look at quasars, we are looking at objects immediately after creation.
Dr. Edwin Hubble’s 1929 ‘red shift’ doppler effect spectra means that since the Big Bang, everything in the universe is shifting outward, moving away from each other. Einstein’s work told of how the total gravitational force of all mass produces a universe that must be understood in terms of ‘curved space geometry’, meaning that all objects in the universe follow curved trajectories. This has great impact on western understanding of cosmology, time and the assumptions underwriting our Big Bang.
For Einstein, if our universe is negatively curved, it is an open universe, meaning that mass moving along gravitational lines of curved space would exit from our universe. But, if it is positively curved, meaning ‘closed’, then the universe curves back onto itself. Currently, this is the main postulate of contemporary cosmologists, even though divergent work is being done by rival cosmologists who are unable to reconcile such postulates to the demands evidenced in ‘closed’ systems as delineated by Einstein.
Listening to the great MIT cosmologist Alan Guth describe the universe expanding within a fraction of a second from the size of an atom to a marble remains incredulous. My initial thought was how does he know? Believing in the big bang required a very large leap of faith.
The great cosmologists of the 20th century also though so too, like Einstein. He stubbornly refused to believe it. The work of managing this hypothesis fell to a Belgian Roman Catholic Priest named Georges Lemaitre, who was an accomplished astronomer and physicist. He theorized that the Universe expanded from the proposition that it was launched from a primeval atom, a process that he later termed ‘the big bang’. Why is this significant? Because at the time of his work, the vast majority of accomplished (read tenured lol) professional physicists assumed the universe to be static, with no beginning or end; a view identical to Aristotle. Father Lemaitre, being a well trained Thomas, just couldn’t accept that premise. Alone he worked out complicated mathematical results demonstrating the beginning of the universe based on Einstein’s own theory of general relativity. Note, this was done after Edwin Hubble’s astronomical observations of 1929 which proved that Lemaitre was right about an expanding universe.
On March 17 of 2014, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics held a conference examining background imaging of cosmic extragalactic polarization (B.I.C.E.P.), meaning evidentiary support for gravitational waves confirming the existence of major theoretical components of Einstein’s theory of relativity, evidence supporting ‘the big bang.”
B.I.C.E.P. also supports cosmic inflation, a mechanism by which the early universe expanded from the size of an atom to that of a marble (Alan Guth). So the ‘Big Bang’ is verified by B.I.C.E.P. but also from decades of data on background microwave radiation (embers of the big bang) as well as high-energy particle collisions from the Large Hadron Collider (a replica of the big bang.)
So, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is this: the big bang didn’t happen in a void, it didn’t occur in ‘nothing’. It had to be spawned in some kind of pre-existent medium, like quantum foam (an idea).
So, we’re off to the races again, but this time on firmer ontological ground.