Thursday, March 9, 2017

What happened before the Big Bang?

By Steve Jurvetson - Flickr, CC BY 2.0
I watched a program on TV presented by Geekdom's pinup boy, Professor Brian Cox, last night. Seems he was in Australia, wowing the folks in Canberra and no doubt some other places, with exceedingly geeky lectures about the Big Bang and what came before.

I expect anybody reading this post will be familiar with the Big Bang theory (not the TV show) but just in case Wikipedia will be sufficient for our purposes. Suffice to say that scientific evidence from astronomical calculations - the background radiation that fills space, the red shift in galaxies and the like - all support the idea that the universe as we know it began in a huge expansion13.8 billion years ago. The thing about the BBT that gets everybody - doubters and believers alike - is what happened before the Big Bang?

Enter Brian Cox. Here's an interview he did with Jeff Forshaw and the Guardian newspaper in which they discuss a few ideas about the Big Bang.

I'm expecting that in the next episode of the show we'll see what evidence they're looking for at Australian observatories. Since we have so few people on our vast continent, we have a lot of very dark sky, and a number of very large telescope arrays. The biggest one is the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory, located about 300km north-east of Geraldton, Western Australia. It is the home of the Australian SKA Pathfinder and the Murchison Widefield Array groups of radio telescopes. It will also shortly be the home of a significant part of the Square Kilometre Array, a radio telescope that will have a total collecting area of approximately one square kilometre (the other part will be in South Africa). When completed, the SKA will be 50 times more sensitive than any radio telescope in existence. (source Australian Geographic) Brian hasn't been to that one, but he did visit Siding Spring in NSW, located not all that far from the Parkes dish which Donna talked about in her recent post.

Anyway, here's a Youtube video with a rather good, easily understood description of possible theories. It's less than 5 minutes long.

I can't help but add a little personal story about how I first discovered the incomparable Terry Pratchett.

I’ll always remember the first Discworld book I read. I was kicking my heels in the domestic terminal at Perth airport, browsing for a book to read on the long flight to Sydney. I’d seen the book with the cartoon cover in the SF section a few times before, but had skipped over it for spaceships and things. This time, I picked it up and read the blurb. Then I read the prologue, in which TP introduced everybody to the great space-going turtles that carried worlds on their backs. It was an Indian legend that I’d come across in my studies.

Some scientists believed in the ‘steady gait’ theory, in which the turtles journeyed unendingly through the multi-verse, never changing pace. Others contended that the turtles were travelling to a meeting place, where they would mate and create more star turtles. This was known as the ‘big bang’ theory. After I’d wiped tears of laughter from my eyes, I made my way to the counter and bought the book. I bought hard copies of every book Sir T wrote.

Sigh. I will miss Terry Pratchett forever.


  1. Sometimes this stuff boggles the mind, until I realize that whatever happened happened so far in the past (or will happen so far in the future) it's not really going to make much difference for the teeny tiny little lifespan of our species. It's just something science keeps reaching for to add to our understanding. Who knows? Maybe it's beyond our understanding. Maybe at some point time, matter and all the rules of physics as we know them simple no longer apply.

    Not that I don't care or that I'm not interested, because while it's boggling it's also fascinating. And that sometimes makes for a fresh new batch of plot bunnies.

    Long, long ago I wrote a short story based on a "what if." What if all the galaxies in our universe only make up random molecules of some particle of dust in the cosmic soup of another, greater universe. See? Boggled again. :/

  2. The Big Bang theory always makes me think of Douglas Adams and the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy:
    "In the beginning was the Creation of the Universe. This has made a lot of people angry, and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
    Many races believe that the creation of the Universe involved some sort of God, though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodle VI believe that the entire Universe was in fact sneezed out of the nose of a being known as the Great Green Arkleseizure. The Jatravartids live in perpetual fear of the time they call "the Coming of the Great White Handkerchief", somewhat similar to the Apocalypse. However, the Great Green Arkleseizure theory is not widely accepted outside Viltvodle VI and so, the Universe being as wide and strange as it is, other explanations are constantly being sought by different races throughout the Galaxy."
    I was introduced to Terry Pratchett by my husband. He was being sent the books by a book club, not reading them and in trouble because he wasn't paying for them but also not sending them back. So I paid for them, and because I'd paid for them, I read them. The Watch series books are my favourites, with Moist von Lipwig's stories next (though I've still to get the last one of those). *sniffles*


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