Another revelation from The Reader (the device that houses my Molly Fyde source material) has shaken me to the core this week. It’s rare that anything can upstage the events of Molly’s life; but this tidbit, revealed through a conversation Molly preserved in her journal, is as big as it gets. And it explains two gaping holes in the standard cosmological model.
As tight as the Big Bang model seemed last century, the theory has required extensive modification during my lifetime. The formation of the theory was simple enough: it was noted that everything in the universe seemed to be moving away from all other things. If this motion is reversed, in order to picture earlier states of the universe, it leads to the obvious conclusion that all matter must have been in “one place” long ago. (Or, more precisely, that space was “more dense” long ago, but I’ll not quibble here)
Subsequent observations have challenged this theory, requiring massive overhauls. One of these modifications was made by Alan Guth, who posited the Inflationary Hypothesis to explain the perceived homogeneous nature of our universe. More recently, the standard model hit another snag when it was discovered that the expansion of space is accelerating.
Both of these problems, and their messy solutions, are waved away in The Reader. The answer, it turns out, does not require cosmological constants and Dark Energy (Physicists really must learn to distrust these magical creatures they invent in order to prop up their previously-held assumptions. Especially if the word “dark” feels apt). All that is needed is a better visualization of space as it expands through multiple dimensions.
Remember what we talked about in my blog post, THE UNIVERSE ISN’T FLAT? How one can travel in a “straight line” in any direction on the Earth’s surface and end up right where they began their journey? And how the same is true of the universe in general? Move in a straight line–in any direction–and you’ll come back to where you started (ignoring the fact that “where you started” will have moved on in the interim)
Well, this fact is finally incorporated into the Standard Cosmological Model several hundred years from now. It solves several major observational problems, but it results in a new, scarier one: we’re over halfway there, folks.
The mistake, long made, has been to assume that the “big crunch” is gonna come after gravity slows, halts, then pulls everything back together (or that everything will float out into a “cold death”) Not so. The reason the expansion is speeding up is because the initial force was enough to get us most of the way “around.” Now gravity is pulling us back together! Picture it like this:
We are standing on the North Pole with thousands of super-powerful magnets. They only have one pole, so they attract each other, never repel (just as gravity is a purely attractive force). Let’s fire the magnets away from us along thousands of lines of longitude (all of them leading “South”). If we don’t throw them hard enough, they’ll all come crashing back around us at the North Pole. And that’s the old model of Big Bang leading to Big Crunch.
Now let’s imagine we throw them even harder. Hard enough to break their mutual attraction back to the North Pole. This time, we fire the magnets past the equator. What will happen? Will the magnets attract one another and collide back where we stand? Of course not. They’ll meet at the South Pole! That’s “downhill” for them once they get past the equator. Now they’re getting closer and speeding up.
Which is what we observe our universe to be doing right now. And that means we’re over halfway there…
Before you rush out for milk and eggs, keep in mind that we still have another 12 billion years to go. Besides, some very smart people are working on a way to ensure that everything “misses” everything else, sending us back around for another loop. In fact… one esteemed alien physicist has made an incredible suggestion: she claims that this isn’t the first time we’ve made this journey.
Old legends about the cyclical nature of individual lives may have understated the facts. It could be our entire universe…