(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Big Bang

“I have not yet lost a feeling of wonder, and of delight, that the delicate motion should reside in all the things around us”*…

The proton, the positively charged particle at the heart of the atom, is an object of unspeakable complexity, one that changes its appearance depending on how it is probed…

“This is the most complicated thing that you could possibly imagine,” said Mike Williams, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In fact, you can’t even imagine how complicated it is.”

The proton is a quantum mechanical object that exists as a haze of probabilities until an experiment forces it to take a concrete form. And its forms differ drastically depending on how researchers set up their experiment. Connecting the particle’s many faces has been the work of generations. “We’re kind of just starting to understand this system in a complete way,” said Richard Milner, a nuclear physicist at MIT.

As the pursuit continues, the proton’s secrets keep tumbling out. Most recently, a monumental data analysis published in August found that the proton contains traces of particles called charm quarks that are heavier than the proton itself.

The proton “has been humbling to humans,” Williams said. “Every time you think you kind of have a handle on it, it throws you some curveballs.”

Recently, Milner, together with Rolf Ent at Jefferson Lab, MIT filmmakers Chris Boebel and Joe McMaster, and animator James LaPlante, set out to transform a set of arcane plots that compile the results of hundreds of experiments into a series of animations of the shape-shifting proton…

Charlie Wood (and Merrill Sherman) have incorporated that work into an attempt to unveil the particle’s secrets: “Inside the Proton, the ‘Most Complicated Thing You Could Possibly Imagine’,” from @walkingthedot in @QuantaMagazine.

* Edmund Burke


As we ponder presumptive paradoxes, we might send insightful birthday greetings to David Schramm; he was born on this date in 1945. A theoretical astrophysicist, he established the field of particle astrophysics, a branch of particle physics that studies elementary particles of astronomical origin and their relation to astrophysics and cosmology. He was particularly well known for the study of Big Bang nucleosynthesis and its use as a probe of dark matter and of neutrinos. And he made important contributions to the study of cosmic rays, supernova explosions, heavy-element nucleosynthesis, and nuclear astrophysics generally.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 25, 2022 at 1:00 am

“It is difficult to fully appreciate how much our picture of the universe has changed in the span of a single human lifetime”*…

… and it continues to change…

Our universe could be the mirror image of an antimatter universe extending backwards in time before the Big Bang. So claim physicists in Canada, who have devised a new cosmological model positing the existence of an “antiuniverse” which, paired to our own, preserves a fundamental rule of physics called CPT symmetry. The researchers still need to work out many details of their theory, but they say it naturally explains the existence of dark matter.

Standard cosmological models tell us that the universe – space, time and mass/energy – exploded into existence some 14 billion years ago and has since expanded and cooled, leading to the progressive formation of subatomic particles, atoms, stars and planets.

However, Neil Turok of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario reckons that these models’ reliance on ad-hoc parameters means they increasingly resemble Ptolemy’s description of the solar system. One such parameter, he says, is the brief period of rapid expansion known as inflation that can account for the universe’s large-scale uniformity. “There is this frame of mind that you explain a new phenomenon by inventing a new particle or field,” he says. “I think that may turn out to be misguided.”

nstead, Turok and his Perimeter Institute colleague Latham Boyle set out to develop a model of the universe that can explain all observable phenomena based only on the known particles and fields. They asked themselves whether there is a natural way to extend the universe beyond the Big Bang – a singularity where general relativity breaks down – and then out the other side. “We found that there was,” he says.

The answer was to assume that the universe as a whole obeys CPT symmetry. This fundamental principle requires that any physical process remains the same if time is reversed, space inverted and particles replaced by antiparticles. Turok says that this is not the case for the universe that we see around us, where time runs forward as space expands, and there’s more matter than antimatter.

Instead, says Turok, the entity that respects the symmetry is a universe–antiuniverse pair. The antiuniverse would stretch back in time from the Big Bang, getting bigger as it does so, and would be dominated by antimatter as well as having its spatial properties inverted compared to those in our universe [as per the illustration above]…

More at “Our universe has antimatter partner on the other side of the Big Bang, say physicists,” in @PhysicsWorld.

Apposite: “The Big Bang no longer means what it used to.”

* Lawrence M. Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing


As we debate doppelgangers, we might send chronologically-accurate birthday greetings to Louis Essen; he was born on this date in 1908. A physicist, he is best remembered for his measurements of time– he invented the quartz crystal ring clock and the first practical atomic clock. His cesium-beam atomic clock ultimately changed the way time is measured: the cesium atom’s natural frequency was formally recognized as the new international unit of time in 1967; the second was defined as exactly 9,192,631,770 oscillations or cycles of the cesium atom’s resonant frequency, replacing the old “second” which had been defined in terms of the Earth’s motion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Essen’s punctilious dedication to accuracy, he was a critic of Einstein’s theory of relativity, particularly as it related to time dilation. Moreover, we note (with an eye to the item above) that Essen’s clocks measured time in only one direction…


Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 6, 2022 at 1:00 am

“A mind that is stretched by a new idea can never go back to its original dimensions”*…

Alex Berezow observes (in an appreciation of Peter AtkinsGalileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science) that, while scientific theories are always being tested, scrutinized for flaws, and revised, there are ten concepts so durable that it is difficult to imagine them ever being replaced with something better…

In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued that science, instead of progressing gradually in small steps as is commonly believed, actually moves forward in awkward leaps and bounds. The reason for this is that established theories are difficult to overturn, and contradictory data is often dismissed as merely anomalous. However, at some point, the evidence against the theory becomes so overwhelming that it is forcefully displaced by a better one in a process that Kuhn refers to as a “paradigm shift.” And in science, even the most widely accepted ideas could, someday, be considered yesterday’s dogma.

Yet, there are some concepts which are considered so rock solid, that it is difficult to imagine them ever being replaced with something better. What’s more, these concepts have fundamentally altered their fields, unifying and illuminating them in a way that no previous theory had done before…

The bedrock of modern biology, chemistry, and physics: “The ten greatest ideas in the history of science,” from @AlexBerezow in @bigthink.

* Oliver Wendell Holmes


As we forage for first principles, we might send carefully-calcuated birthday greetings to Georgiy Antonovich Gamov; he was born on this date in 1904. Better known by the name he adopted on immigrating to the U.S., George Gamow, he was a physicist and cosmologist whose early work was instrumental in developing the Big Bang theory of the universe; he also developed the first mathematical model of the atomic nucleus. In 1954, he expanded his interests into biochemistry and his work on deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) made a basic contribution to modern genetic theory.

But mid-career Gamow began to shift his energy to teaching and to writing popular books on science… one of which, One Two Three… Infinity, inspired legions of young scientists-to-be and kindled a life-long interest in science in an even larger number of other youngsters (including your correspondent).


“I’m sure the universe is full of intelligent life. It’s just been too intelligent to come here.”*…




The Fermi paradox, named for physicist Enrico Fermi, is the apparent contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and various high estimates for their probability (e.g., some of the optimistic estimates for the Drake equation).  Fermi wondered, “where are they?”

By way of context, Tim Urban in his wonderful Wait But Why?:

As many stars as there are in our galaxy (100 – 400 billion), there are roughly an equal number of galaxies in the observable universe—so for every star in the colossal Milky Way, there’s a whole galaxy out there. All together, that comes out to the typically quoted range of between 1022 and 1024 total stars, which means that for every grain of sand on every beach on Earth, there are 10,000 stars out there.

The science world isn’t in total agreement about what percentage of those stars are “sun-like” (similar in size, temperature, and luminosity)—opinions typically range from 5% to 20%. Going with the most conservative side of that (5%), and the lower end for the number of total stars (1022), gives us 500 quintillion, or 500 billion billion sun-like stars.

There’s also a debate over what percentage of those sun-like stars might be orbited by an Earth-like planet (one with similar temperature conditions that could have liquid water and potentially support life similar to that on Earth). Some say it’s as high as 50%, but let’s go with the more conservative 22% that came out of a recent PNAS study. That suggests that there’s a potentially-habitable Earth-like planet orbiting at least 1% of the total stars in the universe—a total of 100 billion billion Earth-like planets.

So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.

Moving forward, we have no choice but to get completely speculative. Let’s imagine that after billions of years in existence, 1% of Earth-like planets develop life (if that’s true, every grain of sand would represent one planet with life on it). And imagine that on 1% of those planets, the life advances to an intelligent level like it did here on Earth. That would mean there were 10 quadrillion, or 10 million billion intelligent civilizations in the observable universe.

Moving back to just our galaxy, and doing the same math on the lowest estimate for stars in the Milky Way (100 billion), we’d estimate that there are 1 billion Earth-like planets and 100,000 intelligent civilizations in our galaxy.1

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is an organization dedicated to listening for signals from other intelligent life. If we’re right that there are 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, and even a fraction of them are sending out radio waves or laser beams or other modes of attempting to contact others, shouldn’t SETI’s satellite dish array pick up all kinds of signals?

But it hasn’t. Not one. Ever…

Perhaps. as we’ve mused here at (R)D before, life is there, but we’re not seeing it because it isn’t a form of life that we recognize: c.f., “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying” and “That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim.”

But there are some who’ve refused to give up on the search for more traditionally-defined life; indeed, a new study quantifies the “fraction” (to which Urban alludes, above) of civilizations that could (should?) be communicating around our galaxy:

One of the biggest and longest-standing questions in the history of human thought is whether there are other intelligent life forms within our Universe. Obtaining good estimates of the number of possible extraterrestrial civilizations has however been very challenging.

A new study led by the University of Nottingham and published [earlier this month] in The Astrophysical Journal has taken a new approach to this problem. Using the assumption that intelligent life forms on other planets in a similar way as it does on Earth, researchers have obtained an estimate for the number of intelligent communicating civilizations within our own galaxy -the Milky Way. They calculate that there could be over 30 active communicating intelligent civilizations in our home Galaxy…

Details at (the slightly misleadingly-titled): “Research sheds new light on intelligent life existing across the galaxy.”

* Arthur C. Clarke


As we stay tuned, we might send far-seeing birthday greeting to Fred Hoyle; he was born on this date in 1915.  A prominent astronomer, he formulated the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.  But he is rather better remembered for his controversial stances on other scientific matters—in particular his rejection of the “Big Bang” theory (a term he coined, derisively, in one of his immensely-popular series The Nature of the Universe on BBC radio) and his promotion of panspermia as the source of life on Earth.

220px-Fred_Hoyle source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 24, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Nothing happens until something moves”*…




What determines our fate? To the Stoic Greek philosophers, fate is the external product of divine will, ‘the thread of your destiny’. To transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau, it is an inward matter of self-determination, of ‘what a man thinks of himself’. To modern cosmologists, fate is something else entirely: a sweeping, impersonal physical process that can be boiled down into a single, momentous number known as the Hubble Constant.

The Hubble Constant can be defined simply as the rate at which the Universe is expanding, a measure of how quickly the space between galaxies is stretching apart. The slightest interpretation exposes a web of complexity encased within that seeming simplicity, however. Extrapolating the expansion process backward implies that all the galaxies we can observe originated together at some point in the past – emerging from a Big Bang – and that the Universe has a finite age. Extrapolating forward presents two starkly opposed futures, either an endless era of expansion and dissipation or an eventual turnabout that will wipe out the current order and begin the process anew.

That’s a lot of emotional and intellectual weight resting on one small number…

How scientists pinned a single number on all of existence: “Fate of the Universe.”

[Readers might remember that the Big Bang wasn’t always an accepted paradigm— and that on-going research continues to surface challenges.]

* Albert Einstein


As we center ourselves, we might spare a thought for Kurt Friedrich Gödel; he died on this date in 1978.  A  logician, mathematician, and philosopher, he is considered (along with Aristotle, Alfred Tarski— whose birthday this also is– and Gottlob Frege) to be one of the most important logicians in history.  Gödel had an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century.  He is, perhaps, best remembered for his Incompleteness Theorems, which led to (among other important results) Alan Turing’s insights into computational theory.

Kurt Gödel’s achievement in modern logic is singular and monumental – indeed it is more than a monument, it is a landmark which will remain visible far in space and time. … The subject of logic has certainly completely changed its nature and possibilities with Gödel’s achievement.                  — John von Neumann

kurt_gödel source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 14, 2020 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: