June 8, 2008

Physicists Present New Theories Of Big Bang’s Predecessor

In recent studies, physicists may have not only found a new model for the creation of our universe, they may also have found an entirely new view on time altogether.

The journal Physical Review Letters shares details about a recent study of the cosmic microwave background "“ light emitted when the universe was only 400,000 years old. It is relic radiation that fills the universe and acts as evidence for the Big Bang theory. In 1992 the Cobe satellite discovered tiny fluctuations on the almost completely smooth microwave background; these were thought to be seeds from which galaxy clusters grew.

The physicists' new model may explain why time moves in a straight line for us. Dr. Adrienne Erickcek and fellow researchers from the California Institute for Technology believe that these fluctuations somehow link to a "bubbling off" of our universe from a previous one. According to their model, new universes may be spontaneously created from empty space "“ a remarkably unspectacular event from inside the parent universe.

Data used in their research comes from NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anistrophy Probe (WMAP), which has been studying the cosmic microwave background for seven years. When describing the team's findings at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Professor Sean Carroll, co-author of the study, said that, "a universe could form inside this room and we'd never know".

The explanation of the Big Bang isn't the purpose for the team's theory; the purpose is to attempt to explain time's unilateral nature. According to Carroll, the laws that govern physics are absolutely reversible yet, "no one gets confused about which is yesterday and which is tomorrow."

This "arrow of time" has long been blamed by physicists on the second law of thermodynamics. According to this fundamental physical rule, systems move from order to disorder over a period of time. This rule is so fundamental, in fact, that Arthur Eddington, a pioneering astronomer quipped, "If your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation".

Professor Carroll agrees that the law cannot be avoided, unless, of course the Universe began its life in a disordered state. In Carroll's presentation, he explained that if a Big Bang were created from cold space of a previous universe, the new universe would begin its life in an ordered state. He explained, "Every time you break an egg or spill a glass of water you're learning about the Big Bang". The fact that you can't re-assemble a broken egg, and the apparent direction of time are simply consequences.

Researchers are now attempting to calculate the odds of a new universe coming from a previous one.

Results from the WMAP are the team's lifebread for the time being. According to measurements from the satellite, fluctuations in the microwave background are 10% stronger on one side of the sky than the other.

According to Carroll this may simply be a coincidence, but it could be explained if it represented a structure inherited from our universe's parent. He stated, "We're trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don't know whether there was anything - or if there was, what it was."

If the work of the Caltech team is on target, we may have the first information on what came before our Universe.


Image Caption: The detailed, all-sky picture of the infant universe from three years of WMAP data. The image reveals 13.7 billion year old temperature fluctuations (shown as color differences) that correspond to the seeds that grew to become the galaxies. The signal from the our Galaxy was subtracted using the multi-frequency data. This image shows a temperature range of ± 200 microKelvin. Credit: NASA / WMAP Science Team


On the Net:

AAS 212th Meeting, St Louis

Caltech Astronomy

Erickcek et al. Paper (arXiv.org)

Physical Review Letters

WMAP (Nasa)