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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

What goes around, comes around.

If you're a bible-believing fundamentalist Christian, you stand a decent chance of believing that the universe is a paltry 6,000 years old. If you're a science-loving empirically-minded person, you likely think that the universe is much, much older (e.g. around 14 billion years old). But in either case, you believe that our universe had a distinct beginning- a starting point from which everything we see derives. And, as it turns out, it might just be that we've all been wrong about that:

Most cosmologists trace the birth of the universe to the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. But a new analysis of the relic radiation generated by that explosive event suggests the universe got its start eons earlier and has cycled through myriad episodes of birth and death, with the Big Bang merely the most recent in a series of starting guns.

That startling notion, proposed by theoretical physicist Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford in England and Vahe Gurzadyan of the Yerevan Physics Institute and Yerevan State University in Armenia, goes against the standard theory of cosmology known as inflation.

The researchers base their findings on circular patterns they discovered in the cosmic microwave background, the ubiquitous microwave glow left over from the Big Bang. The circular features indicate that the cosmos itself circles through epochs of endings and beginnings, Penrose and Gurzadyan assert. The researchers describe their controversial findings in an article posted at on November 17.

The circular features are regions where tiny temperature variations in the otherwise uniform microwave background are smaller than average. Those features, Penrose said, cannot be explained by the highly successful inflation theory, which posits that the infant cosmos underwent an enormous growth spurt, ballooning from something on the scale of an atom to the size of a grapefruit during the universe’s first tiny fraction of a second. Inflation would either erase such patterns or could not easily generate them.

It's worth reading the rest of the article to hear about the methodology, as well as its potential faults, but this is pretty neat news both because of its implications for our understanding of where our current universe came from, and for the suggestion that there might be ways to peer back before that "first cause" to see what came before. And honestly, this is one of those moments that really demonstrates the bizarre nature of a scientist's mind- when news comes out that suggests we may have been fundamentally wrong about something, the reaction tends to be something like this: "Oh, COOL! Is this real? Because if it is... WOW! That is so interesting! What else will chance now?" When life is a quest for knowledge, the entire universe becomes your playground.

As a side note: Does this mean that the crazy lady with the circles was onto something?

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Blogger Mister Troll said...

Wellll... I'm not a cosmologist, but inflation is pretty darn well supported.

But I look forward to learning more. Thanks for the heads up.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Yeah, that's my understanding too. Likewise, just because X scientist publishes a paper advancing Y claim it doesn't mean that Y claim is correct. That said, though, it's a pretty neat possibility and I'm hardly a responsible journalist.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 10:51:00 AM  

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