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Tag Archives: Big Bang

WIMPs or MACHOs or Primordial Black Holes

A decade or more ago, the debate about dark matter was, is it due to WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles) or MACHOs (massive compact halo objects)? WIMPs would be new exotic particles, while MACHOs are objects formed from ordinary matter but very hard to detect due to their limited electromagnetic radiation emission.

Arnold_Schwarzenegger_2003

Schwarzenegger (MACHO), not Schwarzschild (Black Holes)

Image credit: Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0

Candidates in the MACHO category such as white dwarf or brown dwarf stars have been ruled out by observational constraints. Black holes formed in the very early universe, dubbed primordial black holes, were thought by many to have been ruled out as well, at least across many mass ranges, such as between the mass of the Moon and the mass of the Sun.

The focus during recent years, and most of the experimental searches, has shifted to WIMPs or other exotic particles (axions or sterile neutrinos primarily). But the WIMPs, which were motivated by supersymmetric extensions to the Standard Model of particle physics, have remained elusive. Most experiments have only placed stricter and stricter limits on their possible abundance and interaction cross-sections. The Large Hadron Collider has not yet found any evidence for supersymmetric particles.

Have primordial black holes (PBHs) as the explanation for dark matter been given short shrift? The recent detections by the LIGO instruments of two gravitational wave events, well explained by black hole mergers, have sparked new interest. A previous blog entry addressed this possibility:

https://darkmatterdarkenergy.com/2016/06/17/primordial-black-holes-as-dark-matter/.

The black holes observed in these events have masses in a range from about 8 to about 36 solar masses, and they could well be primordial.

There are a number of mechanisms to create PBHs in the early universe, prior to the very first second and the beginning of Big Bang nucleosynthesis. At any era, if there is a total mass M confined within a radius R, such that

2*GM/R > c^2 ,

then a black hole will form. The above equation defines the Schwarzschild limit (G is the gravitational constant and c the speed of light). A PBH doesn’t even have to be formed from matter whether ordinary or exotic; if the energy and radiation density is high enough in a region, it can also result in collapse to a black hole.

 cosmicstrings.jpg

Cosmic Strings

Image credit: David Daverio, Université de Genève, CSCS supercomputer simulation data

The mechanisms for PBH creation include:

  1. Cosmic string loops – If string theory is correct the very early universe had very long strings and many short loops of strings. These topological defects intersect and form black holes due to the very high density at their intersection points. The black holes could have a broad range of masses.
  2. Bubble collisions from symmetry breaking – As the very early universe expanded and cooled, the strong force, weak force and electromagnetic force separated out. Bubbles would nucleate at the time of symmetry breaking as the phase of the universe changed, just as bubbles form in water as it boils to the surface. Collisions of bubbles could lead to high density regions and black hole formation. Symmetry breaking at the GUT scale (for the strong force separation) would yield BHs of mass around 100 kilograms. Symmetry breaking of the weak force from the electromagnetic force would yield BHs with a mass of around our Moon’s mass ~ 10^25 kilograms.
  3. Density perturbations – These would be a natural result of the mechanisms in #1 and #2, in any case. When observing the cosmic microwave background radiation, which dates from a time when the universe was only 380,000 years old, we see density perturbations at various scales, with amplitudes of only a few parts in a million. Nevertheless these serve as the seeds for the formation of the first galaxies when the universe was only a few hundred million years old. Some perturbations could be large enough on smaller distance scales to form PBHs ranging from above a solar mass to as high as 100,000 solar masses.

For a PBH to be an effective dark matter contributor, it must have a lifetime longer than the age of the universe. BHs radiate due to Hawking radiation, and thus have finite lifetimes. For stellar mass BHs, the lifetimes are incredibly long, but for smaller BHs the lifetimes are much shorter since the lifetime is proportional to the cube of the BH mass. Thus a minimum mass for PBHs surviving to the present epoch is around a trillion kilograms (a billion tons).

Carr et al. (paper referenced below) summarized the constraints on what fraction of the matter content of the universe could be in the form of black holes. Traditional black holes, of several solar masses, created by stellar collapse and detectable due to their accretion disks, do not provide enough matter density. Neither do supermassive black holes of over a million solar masses found at the centers of most galaxies. PBHs may be important in seeding the formation of the supermassive black holes, however.

Limits on the PBH abundance in our galaxy and its halo (which is primarily composed of dark matter) are obtained from:

  1. Cosmic microwave background measurements
  2. Microlensing measurements (gravitational lensing)
  3. Gamma-ray background limits
  4. Neutral hydrogen clouds in the early universe
  5. Wide binaries (disruption limits)

Microlensing surveys such as MACHO and EROS have searched for objects in our galactic halo that act as gravitational lenses for light originating from background stars in the Magellanic Clouds or the Andromeda galaxy. The galactic halo is composed primarily of dark matter.

A couple of dozen of objects with less than a solar mass have been detected.  Based on these surveys the fraction of dark matter which can be PBHs with less than a solar mass is 10% at most. The constraints from 1 solar mass up to 30 solar masses are weaker, and a PBH explanation for most of the galactic halo mass remains possible.

Similar studies conducted toward distant quasars and compact radio sources address the constraint in the supermassive black hole domain, apparently ruling out an explanation due to PBHs with from 1 million to 100 million solar masses.

Lyman-alpha clouds are neutral hydrogen clouds (Lyman-alpha is an important ultraviolet absorption line for hydrogen) that are found in the early universe at redshifts above 4. Simulations of the effect of PBH number density fluctuations on the distribution of Lyman-alpha clouds appear to limit the PBH contribution to dark matter for a characteristic PBH mass above 10,000 solar masses.

Distortions in the cosmic microwave background are expected if PBHs above 10 solar masses contributed substantially to the dark matter component. However these limits assume that PBH masses do not change. Merging and accretion events after the recombination era, when the cosmic microwave background was emitted, can allow a spectrum of PBH masses that were initially less than a solar mass before recombination evolve to one dominated by PBHs of tens, hundreds and thousands of solar masses today. This could be a way around some of the limits that appear to be placed by the cosmic microwave background temperature fluctuations.

Thus it appears could be a window in the region 30 to several thousand solar masses for PBHs as an explanation of cold dark matter.

As the Advanced LIGO gravitational wave detectors come on line, we expect many more black hole merger discoveries that will help to elucidate the nature of primordial black holes and the possibility that they contribute substantially to the dark matter component of our Milky Way galaxy and the universe.

References

B. Carr, K. Kohri, Y. Sendouda, J. Yokoyama, 2010 arxiv.org/pdf/0912.5297v2 “New cosmological constraints on primordial black holes”

S. Cleese and J. Garcia-Bellido, 2015 arxiv.org/pdf/1501.07565v1.pdf “Massive Primordial Black Holes from Hybrid Inflation as Dark Matter and the Seeds of Galaxies”

P. Frampton, 2015 arxiv.org/pdf/1511.08801.pdf “The Primordial Black Hole Mass Range”

P. Frampton, 2016 arxiv.org/pdf/1510.00400v7.pdf “Searching for Dark Matter Constituents with Many Solar Masses”

Green, A., 2011 https://www.mpifr-bonn.mpg.de/1360865/3rd_WG_Green.pdf “Primordial Black Hole Formation”

P. Pani, and A. Loeb, 2014 http://xxx.lanl.gov/pdf/1401.3025v1.pdf “Exclusion of the remaining mass window for primordial black holes as the dominant constituent of dark matter”

S. Perrenod, 2016 https://darkmatterdarkenergy.com/2016/06/17/primordial-black-holes-as-dark-matter/

NEW BOOK just released:

S. Perrenod, 2016, 72 Beautiful Galaxies (especially designed for iPad, iOS; ages 12 and up)

Andromeda_galaxy_Galex

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Planck Mission Full Results Confirm Canonical Cosmology Model

Dark Matter, Dark Energy values refined

The Planck satellite, launched by the European Space Agency, made observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) for a little over 4 years, beginning in August, 2009 until October, 2013.

Preliminary results based on only the data obtained over the first year and a quarter of operation, and released in 2013, established high confidence in the canonical cosmological model. This ΛCDM (Lambda-Cold Dark Matter) model is of a topologically flat universe, initiated in an inflationary Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago and dominated by dark energy (the Λ component), and secondarily by cold dark matter (CDM). Ordinary matter, of which stars, planets and human beings are composed, is the third most important component from a mass-energy standpoint. The amount of dark energy is over twice the mass-energy equivalent of all matter combined, and the dark matter is well in excess of the ordinary matter component.

The_history_of_the_Universe

This general model had been well-established by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), but the Planck results have provided much greater sensitivity and confidence in the results.

Now a series of 28 papers have been released by the Planck Consortium detailing results from the entire mission, with over three times as much data gathered. The first paper in the series, Planck 2015 Results I, provides an overview of these results. Papers XIII and XIV detail the cosmological parameters measured and the findings on dark energy, while several additional papers examine potential departures from a canonical cosmological model and constraints on inflationary models.

In particular they find that:

Ωb*h²  = .02226 to within 1%.

In this expression Ωb is the baryon (basically ordinary matter) mass-energy fraction (fraction of total-mass energy in ordinary matter) and h = H0/100. H0 is the Hubble constant which measures the expansion rate of the universe, and indirectly, its age. The best value for H0 is 67.8 kilometers/sec/Megaparsec  (millions of parsecs, where 1 parsec = 3.26 light-years). H0 has an uncertainty of about 1.3% (two standard deviations). In this case h = .678 and the expression above becomes:

Ωb = .048, with uncertainty around 3% of its value. Thus, just under 5% of the mass-energy density in the universe is in ordinary matter.

The cold matter density is measured to be:

Ωc*h²  = .1186 with uncertainty less than 2% and with the h value substituted we have Ωc = .258 with similar uncertainty.

Since the radiation density in the universe is known to be very low, the remainder of the mass-energy fraction is from dark energy,

Ωe = 1 – .048 – .258 = .694

So in approximate percentage terms the Planck 2015 results indicate 69% dark energy, 26% dark matter, and 5% ordinary matter as the mass-energy balance of the universe. These results are essentially the same as the ratios found from the preliminary results reported in 2013. It is to be emphasized that these are present-day values of the constituents. The components evolve differently as the universe expands. Dark energy is manifested with its current energy density in every new unit of volume as the universe continues to expand, while the average dark matter and ordinary matter densities decrease inversely as the volume grows. This implies that in the past, dark energy was less important, but it will dominate more and more as the universe continues to expand.

Why is dark energy produced as the universe expands? The simplest explanation is that it is the irreducible quantum energy of empty space, of the vacuum. Empty space – space with no particles whatsoever – still has fields (scalar fields, in particular) permeating it, and these fields have a minimum energy. It also has ‘virtual’ particles popping in and out of existence very briefly. This is the cosmological constant (Λ) model for the dark energy.

This is the ultimate free lunch in nature. The dark energy works as a negative gravity; it enters into the equations of general relativity as a negative pressure which causes space to expand. And as space expands, more dark energy is created! A wonderful self-reinforcing process is in place. Since the dark energy dominates over matter, the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and has been for the last 5 billion years or so. Why wonderful? Because it adds billions upon billions of years of life to our universe.

The Planck Consortium also find the universe is topologically flat to a very high degree, with an upper limit of 1/2 of 1% deviation from flatness at large scales. This is an impressive observational result.

One of the most interesting results is Planck’s ability to constrain inflationary models. While a massive inflation almost certainly happened during the first billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second as the Universe began, as indicated by the very uniformity of the CMB signal, there are many possible models of the inflationary field’s energy potential.

We’ll take a look at this in a future blog entry.


BICEP2 Apparently Detects Quantum Nature of Gravity and Supports Inflationary Big Bang

Can a single experiment do all of the following?

  1. Provide significant confirmation of the inflationary version of the Big Bang model (and help constrain which model of inflation is correct)
  2. Confirm the existence of gravitational waves
  3. Support the quantum nature of gravity (at very high energies)
  4. Provide the first direct insight into the highest energy levels imagined by physicists – 10^16 GeV (10,000 trillion GeV) – 12 orders of magnitude beyond the LHC

Apparently it can! BICEP2 is a radio telescope experiment located at the South Pole, taking advantage of the very cold, dry air at that remote location for greater sensitivity. It is focused on measuring polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation that is a remnant of the hot Big Bang of the early universe. (BICEP is an abbreviation of Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization; this is the second version of the experiment).

The results announced by the BICEP2 team on March 17 at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, if they have been correctly interpreted, are the most important in cosmology in the 21st century to date. They are of such enormous significance that a Nobel Prize in Physics is highly likely, if the results and interpretation are confirmed.

We infer from a number of previous observations that there was likely an inflationary period very early on in the universes’s history. We are talking very, very, early – in the first billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. See this earlier post of mine here: https://darkmatterdarkenergy.com/2011/03/22/inflation/ This new result from BICEP2 is very supportive of inflationary Big Bang models, and that includes very simple models for inflation.

What is the observation? It is B-mode polarization in the cosmic microwave background radiation. The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is the thermal radiation left over from a time when the universe became transparent, at age 380,000 years, almost 14 billion years ago. There are two polarization modes for alignment of CMB radiation, the E-mode and the B-mode. The B-mode measures the amount of “curliness” in the alignment of CMB microwave photons (as you can easily see in the image below).

There are two known causes of B-mode polarization for the CMB. The first, also detected by the BICEP2 experiment, is due to intervening clusters of galaxies along the line of sight. These clusters bend the light paths due to their immense masses, in accordance with general relativity. These effects are seen at smaller spatial scales. At larger spatial scales, we have the more significant effect, whereby the gravitational waves generated during the inflation epoch imprint the polarization.

 

Image

 

You can easily see the curly B-mode polarization with a quick glance at BICEP2’s results. (bicepkeck.org)

 

What is being seen in today’s CMB is due to this second and more profound cause, which is nothing less than quantum fluctuations in space-time in the very, very early universe revealing themselves due to the gravitational waves that they generated. And these gravitational waves in turn caused a small curling effect on the cosmic microwave background, until the time of decoupling of radiation and matter. This is seen in the image at angular scales of a few degrees.

At age 380,000 years the universe became transparent to the CMB radiation and it traveled for another 13.8 billion years and underwent a redshift by a factor of 1500 as the universe expanded. So what was optical radiation at that time, becomes microwave radiation today, with a characteristic temperature of 2.7 Kelvins (degrees above absolute zero), while still retaining the curly pattern seen by BICEP2.

This is the first observation that provides some direct insight into extremely high energy scales within the context of a single experiment. We are talking here of approximately a trillion times higher energy than the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, where the Higgs boson was discovered.

The BICEP2 results are a single experiment that for the first time apparently ties quantum mechanics and gravity together. It supports the quantum nature of gravity, which occurs at very high energy scales. The Planck scale at which space-time would be quantized corresponds to an energy level of 10^18 or 10^19 GeV (ten million trillion GeV), and inflation in many models begins when the universe has an energy level somewhat lower, at 10^16 GeV (ten thousand trillion GeV, where 1 GeV is a little more than the rest mass-energy of a proton).

And take a look at this interview of Sean Carroll by PBS’s Gwen Ifill to get some more context around this (hopefully correct!) universe-expanding discovery. Other astronomers are already racing to confirm it.

 

References:

http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/CMB/bicep2/ – BICEP2 web site at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/17/bicep2-how-hot-big-bang-science-dark-energy

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gravity-waves-cmb-b-mode-polarization/


Caught in the Cosmic Web – Dark Matter Structure Revealed

NASA/ESA Hubblecast 58

This video reports on a very impressive research effort resulting in the first 3-D mapping of dark matter for a galaxy cluster. A massive galaxy cluster over 5 billion light-years from Earth is the first to have such a full 3-dimensional map of its dark matter distribution. The dark matter is the dominant component of the cluster’s mass. The cluster, known as MACS J0717, is still in the formation stage. The Hubble Space Telescope and a number of ground-based telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii were used to determine the spatial distribution. The longest filament of dark matter discovered by the international team of astronomers stretches across 60 million light-years. Gravitational lensing of galaxy images (as Einstein predicted) and redshift measurements for a large number of galaxies were required in order to uncover the 3-D shape and characteristics of the filament.


Looking for Dark Energy in the Lyman Alpha Forest

Baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO) are the acoustic (sound) waves that occur in the very early universe due to very small density inhomogeneities in the nearly uniform fluid. These primordial acoustic oscillations have left an imprint on the way in which galaxies are spatially distributed. The characteristic scale length for these oscillations is around 500 million light years (in the frame of the present-day universe). A spatial correlation function is used to measure the degree to which galaxies and clumps of matter in general, including dark matter, are separated from one another. The characteristic length scale serves as a standard ruler for very large-scale clustering, and is seen as a distinctive break (change in slope) in the power spectrum of the degree of spatial correlation vs. distance.

An international consortium of astronomers representing 29 institutions have submitted a paper last month to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics; the current version can be found here (http://arxiv.org/abs/1211.2616). They used a clever technique of detecting clouds of neutral hydrogen along the line of sight to a large number of quasars with high redshifts. Thus the matter clumps in this case are neutral hydrogen clouds or neutral hydrogen within intervening galaxies or proto-galaxies. These absorb light from the quasar and produce absorption lines in the spectrum at discrete locations corresponding to various redshifts. The authors are detecting a characteristic transition known as the Lyman alpha line, which is found well into the ultraviolet at 121.6 nanometers (for zero redshift).

For this work over 48,000 high-redshift quasars, with a mean redshift of 2.3, were taken from the 3rd Sloan Digital Sky Survey. A quasar may have many hydrogen clouds intervening along the line of sight from the Earth to the quasar. These clouds will be seen at different redshifts (less than the quasar redshift) reflecting their position along the line of sight. This is referred to as the Lyman alpha “forest”. This study is the first application of Lyman alpha forest measurement to the detection of the BAO feature. At the average red shift of 2.3, the wavelength of Lyman alpha radiation is shifted to 401.3 nm [calculated as (1+2.3)*121.6 nm], in the violet portion of the visible spectrum. The study incorporated redshifts from the absorbing clouds in the range of 1.96 to 3.38; these are found in front of (at lower redshift than) quasars with redshifts ranging from 2.1 to 3.5.

Speedup or slowdown versus age of universe. The Big Bang is on the left, 13.7 billion years ago.

The authors’ measurement of the expansion rate of the universe is shown as the red dot in this figure. The white line through the various data points is the rate of expansion of the universe expected versus time for the standard Lambda-Cold Dark Matter cosmological model. The expansion rate at early times was lessening due to gravity from matter (ordinary and dark), but it is now increasing, since dark energy has come to dominate during the last 5 billion years or so. The red data point is clearly on the slowing down portion of the curve. Image credit: http://sdss3.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/boss-detects-baryon-acoustic-oscillations-in-the-lyman-alpha-forest-at-z-of-2-3/  

The BAO feature has been measured a number of times, using galaxy spatial distributions, but always at lower redshifts, that is at more recent times. This is not only the first Lyman alpha-based measurement, but the first measurement made at a high redshift for which the universe was still slowing down, i.e. the expansion was decelerating. At the redshift of 2.3, when the universe was only about 3 billion years old, the gravitational effect of dark plus ordinary matter was stronger than the repulsive effect of dark energy. It is only more recently, after the universe become about 9 billion years old (some 5 billion years ago), and corresponding to redshifts less than about z = 0.8, that dark energy began to dominate and cause an acceleration in the overall expansion of the universe.

Since this observation shows a significantly higher rate of expansion than occurred at the minimum around 5 billion years ago, it is further evidence that dark energy in some form is real. As the authors state in their paper: “Combined with CMB constraints, we deduce the expansion rate at z = 2.3 and demonstrate directly the sequence of deceleration and acceleration expected in dark-energy dominated cosmologies.” This is an exciting result, providing additional confirmation that dark energy represents around three-quarters of the present-day energy balance of the universe.


Inflation

History of the Universe - WMAP

Graphic for History of the Universe (Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

The Big Bang theory found great success explaining the general features of the universe, including the approximate age, the expansion history after the first second, the relative atomic abundances from cosmic nucleosynthesis, and of course the cosmic microwave background radiation. And it required only general relativity, a smooth initial state, and some well-understood atomic and nuclear physics. It assumed matter, both seen and unseen, was dominating and slowing the expansion via gravity. In this model the universe could expand forever, or recollapse on itself, depending on whether the average density was less than or greater than a certain value determined only by the present value of the Hubble constant.

However, during the late 20th century there remained some limitations and concerns with the standard Big Bang. Why is today’s density so relatively close to this critical value for recollapse, since it would have had to be within 1 part in 1000 trillion of the critical density at the time of the microwave background to yield that state? How did galaxies form given only the tiny density fluctuations observed in the microwave background emitted at the age of 380,000 years for the universe? And why was the microwave background so uniform anyway? In the standard Big Bang model, regions only a few degrees away from each other would not be casually connected (no communication even with light between the regions would be possible).

There are four known fundamental forces of nature. These are electromagnetism and gravity and two types of nuclear forces, known as the strong force and the weak force. Physicists believe all the forces but gravity unify at energies around  10,000 trillion times the rest mass-energy (using E = mc^2) of the proton (1 Giga-electron-Volt). At some point very early in the life of the universe, at even higher energies equal to the Planck energy of 10 million trillion times the proton mass, all of the four forces would have been unified as a single force or interaction. Gravity would separate from the others first as the universe’s expansion began and the effective temperature dropped, and next the strong force would decouple.

We also must consider the vacuum field, that represents the non-zero energy of empty space. Even empty space is filled with virtual particles, and thus energy. At very early times the energy density of the vacuum would be expected to be very high. During the very earliest period of the development of the universe, it could have decayed to a lower energy state in conjunction with the decoupling of the strong force from the unified single force, and this would also have driven an enormous expansion of space and deposited a large amount of energy into the creation of matter.

In the inflationary Big Bang model postulated by Alan Guth and others, the decay of the vacuum field would release massive amounts of energy and drive an enormous inflation (hyperinflation really) during a very short period of time. The inflation might have started one trillionth of one trillionth of one trillionth of a second after the beginning. And it might have lasted until only the time of one billionth of one trillionth of one trillionth of a second. But it would have driven the size of the entire universe to grow from an extremely microscopic scale up to the macroscopic scale. At the end of the inflation, what was originally a tiny bubble of space-time would have grown to perhaps one meter in size. And at the end of the inflationary period, the universe would have been filled with radiation and matter in the form of a quark-gluon plasma. Quarks are the constituent particles of ordinary matter such as protons and neutrons and gluons carry the strong force.

The doubling time was extremely short, so during this one billionth of one trillionth of one trillionth of a second the universe doubled around 100 times. In each of the 3 spatial dimensions it grew by roughly one million times one trillion times one trillion in size! This is much greater than even Zimbabwe’s inflation and happens in a nearly infinitesimal time! The inflationary period drove the universe to be very flat topologically, which is observed. And it implies that the little corner of the universe we can observe, and think of as our own, is only one trillionth of one trillionth of the entire universe, or less. There is good observational support for the inflationary Big Bang model from the latest observations concerning the flatness of the universe, given that the mass-energy density is so close to the critical value, and also from the weight of the evidence concerning the growth of original density fluctuations to form stars and galaxies.


The Big Bang model

CMB spectrum (COBE)

Cosmic Microwave Background spectrum (credit: NASA)

The Big Bang theory describing the origin and expansion of the universe from a very tiny and energetic initial state was developed initially in the 1920s as a solution for Einstein’s equations of general relativity. It assumed, correctly, a uniform (homogeneous) density of matter and energy. While the universe around us today appears highly non-uniform, with visible matter apparently concentrated in groups of galaxies, and in individual galaxies, gaseous nebulae, and star clusters, stars, and planets, all the evidence indicates that matter was very uniformly distributed throughout the first one million years of existence. At that time there were no stars or galaxies, rather the universe consisted of hot dense, but expanding, gas and photons (light). Even today, on the largest scales of 500 million light years and beyond, the universe appears to be quite uniform on average.

The first great support for the Big Bang came from the detection of what we call the Hubble expansion, named for Edwin Hubble, who in 1929 first demonstrated that galaxy recession predominates and depends on distance from us. Galaxies on average are all moving away from each other, unless they are gravitationally bound to their neighbors. The rate of expansion is simply proportional to the distance to the galaxy; this is known as Hubble’s law. Every galaxy moves away from every other galaxy regardless of its position in the universe; this implies a global and uniform expansion.

How do we determine this relationship? The light from these distant galaxies is shifted to be redder than normal in proportion to the velocity away from our galaxy. The redshift is a measure of the velocity of recession and the velocity is found to be proportional to the distance from our Milky Way to the galaxy in question. To be clear, the galaxy velocity and distance follow a linear relation. If we were located in another galaxy, we would observe the same effect. Most of the galaxies would be receding from us as well, at rates proportional to their distance. This is just what one expects for a universe which is isotropic – the same in each direction – and which is expanding uniformly. Each dimension of three-dimensional space is getting larger with time. The gravitationally bound objects, such as the galaxies themselves, are not expanding, but the space between the galaxies is stretching and has been since the Big Bang initial event.

Since the rate of the expansion is proportional to distance, one can take the proportionality constant, known as Hubble’s constant, and by inverting that determine an approximate age of the universe. It amounts to ‘running the movie backward.’ The age works out to 14 billion years, which is very close to the current best estimate of the age of 13.8 billion years, about 3 times the age of the Sun and the Earth.

Another great success of the Big Bang model was in its prediction of the helium abundance. The same hydrogen fusion process that powers the Sun took place in the early universe during the first 20 minutes, when the temperature was millions of degrees. In the Sun hydrogen is fused to created helium. For the early universe, this is known as primordial or Big Bang nucleosynthesis. There was only time enough and the right conditions to create helium, the second lightest element in the periodic table, and also the heavy form of hydrogen known as deuterium, plus just a bit of the third element lithium. None of the heavier elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon or iron were created – this would happen later inside stellar furnaces. The final result of this cosmological nucleosynthesis turned 25% of the initial available mass of hydrogen into helium, and into trace amounts of deuterium, lithium and beryllium. The primordial abundance observed in the oldest stars for helium and deuterium matches the predictions of the Big Bang nucleosynthesis model.

The Big Bang moved from being possible theory to well-established factual model describing the universe when the first detection of the cosmic microwave background was published in 1965 by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, who received the Nobel Physics prize for their discovery. The cosmic microwave background is blackbody thermal radiation at millimeter wavelengths in the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum., and as we observe it at present, it has a temperature of a little under 3 degrees above absolute zero (see image above which has the characteristic thermal blackbody shape). It fills space in every direction in which one observes, and is remarkably uniform in intensity. The cosmic microwave background dates from a time when the universe was about 380,000 years old, and the radiation was originally emitted at a temperature of around 3000 degrees on the Kelvin scale. It also has redshifted, by over 1000 times. Thus we detect today as radio waves photons that were originally emitted in the optical and infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum when the universe was only 380,000 years old. Unlike the hydrogen and helium atoms which are found in stars and on planets, these photons have stretched out in proportion to the expansion of the universe.


Foreword, by Rich Brueckner

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”

— Alan Watts

We all know of the Big Bang, how our universe came to be in a massive explosion, seemingly starting from nothingness. And for those who study cosmology, further understanding requires us to define the dark energies that somehow endowed our world with order.

Now, we haven’t observed dark energy, dark matter, and the secrets of dark gravity directly, but we do see their effects. As we learn in this book, without them, the universe would not have formed in a way that could have spawned intelligent life.

As a writer, I am intrigued by these dark energies because they imply a backstory–phenomena that happened first that led to this outcome. So in this way, dark energies seem to me to be metaphors of science. Like the stories of Genesis and Adam and Eve, what they really represent is a deeper truth.

In this book, Dr. Perrenod does a wonderful job of explaining the origins of the universe in way that is accessible to the layman. When you want to understand how the universe came to be, you ask an astrophysicist. But when you really want to know why, I think you have to start by asking yourself some questions. Try a thought experiment.

Put yourself in the place of a Universal Mind before the Big Bang. If you really wanted to understand yourself, you would need to have something intelligent outside of yourself that could experience that which is you. Not to get metaphysical here, but if we were at the scene of a crime, what I’d be suggesting here is motive.

Thanks to modern physics and cosmology, we no longer live in a universe where dark forces lurk far beyond our capacity for comprehension. I believe that, through the works of Stephen Perrenod and others, we will come to that knowing. But even as we look out to the stars, I think it begins with understanding that not only are we within the universe, but the universe is within us.

Rich Brueckner is President of insideHPC.com