Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Four Dimensions, 11 Dimensions, Cosmology and People

"The Big Bang: Solid Theory, But Mysteries Remain"
Space.com (March 19, 2010)

"The Big Bang was the beginning of the universe as we know it, most scientists say. But was it the first beginning, and will it be the last?

"A popular picture of the early universe imagines a single Big Bang, after which space blew up quickly like a giant bubble. But another theory posits that we live in a universe of 11 dimensions, where all particles are actually made of tiny vibrating strings. This could create a universe stuck in a cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, due to repeat on loop.

"Which scenario is closer to the truth remains to be seen, but scientists say new experiments underway could provide more answers soon...."

Kudos to Space.com's writer, for that "...Which scenario is closer to the truth remains to be seen...." I remember the sort of rock-solid certainty that science textbooks and writers, if not all professional scientists expressed that "once it was believed, now we know." For whatever reason, that sort of scientific triumphalism seems to be out of fashion now. Can't say I'm sorry. (I outlined highlights of the last two and a half millennia in "Once it Was Believed / Now We Know" (2003))

I've been following the "now we know" part of cosmology since the time when many astronomers figured that there might be another star with planets circling it in this galaxy - but not many more than that. Given a popular view of how the Solar system formed, that made sense. Now, well: "Planets Found Circling Other Stars: 429 So Far" (February 15, 2010)). Of course, that was last month. I don't know what the total is today.

Exciting times.

(NASA/WMAP, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"This graphic shows a timeline of the universe based on the Big Bang theory and inflation models."

An idea that's been around since the times of Aristotle and Plato is that matter was pretty much the same yesterday as it is today: and will be tomorrow. That's been the case since people have been observing the world (Something like 1,600,000 years the last time I checked. Not we've always looked like the pointy-chinned geeks we are today. ("Homo Erectus, Kitchens, and Human (Pre)History" (December 21, 2009))

That isn't 'old fashioned thinking' - given what people knew two dozen centuries back, a universe that didn't change in any basic way over time was not only reasonable: it matched observable data.

As we've gotten more detailed and precise information about what the universe is like now - and what it was like when light from distant galaxies started out - the idea that the universe has been changing over time.

Maybe a lot.

Like the fellow said:

"Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine."
Sir Arthur Eddington English astronomer (1882 - 1944)

Related posts:More: click "cosmology" in the label cloud, or check out posts listed in "Change, American Culture, Trilobites, Humanity's History, and the Big Picture ."

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