One of the things I like to do is to understand and then "translate into English" science topics that are difficult to understand. To support my credibility, I was born with an interest in this stuff, and starting in high school was fascinated with Dr. George Gamow's books on Einstein's Relativity. As a high school senior (1956-57) I knew what black holes were before they were called black holes, that there must be one in the center of galaxies, and that stars were more likely to have planets than not. I majored in physics in college thru my Junior year (graduated with B.S. in math), worked 8 years in observatories mostly under Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto, and in the 1970's & 80's voraciously studied all related articles in Scientific American magazine. I invite any physicist to read and critique what I say here.
Why time exists
Why matter has mass
What caused Big Bang
Notes about atoms
What is a black hole?
How gravity works
Isn't it odd?
Life on other planets
Emergence of life
Source of life energy
To experience life
If the Moon was larger
Why the sky is blue
What if a meteor ...
My telescope project
The geometry problem
Photons (energy packets of light) have no mass and travel at the speed of light. At the speed of light, time is zero, so to the photon, the clock is stopped. At the speed of light, length is zero, so to the photon, it travels zero distance in zero time, so space does not exist. The photon doesnít know it exists.
Sprinkle a tiny bit of mass on the photon. It can no longer travel at the speed of light and slows down. The clock starts running. Time happens. The "photon" now knows it is moving, so space happens.
Therefore, you can say that matter causes time, and matter causes space. All the matter plus all the gravity in the universe adds up to zero, and time exists because of the matter.
Now let's take this a little farther. We are in a universe created by the matter resulting from the Big Bang. This matter caused the time and space that we know and love. Here's a way of saying it that I have not seen anywhere: I think we are inside a bubble of time and space that is INSIDE zero time and space. If you could be outside our universe, you wouldn't know it happened.
All matter in the universe will eventually decay to nothing (all particles, even protons, decay (divide) into smaller particles and eventually to nothing). That means with no matter, time and space inside the universe will go back to zero. Beautiful!
Protons and neutrons, components of the nucleus of atoms, are each made up of three quarks bound together by massless particles called gluons. Think of a clear plastic beachball with three BB's whirling around inside, the BB's connected to each other by thin rubber bands, then take away the beachball. Quarks have a small mass, but a proton has 50-200 more mass than the sum of the mass of the three quarks. Where does the other mass come from? It is from the kinetic energy of the quarks whirling around inside the proton, since energy and mass are interchangeable (E=MC2). Most of the mass of familiar matter around us comes from the ENERGY OF MOTION of quarks inside protons and neutrons. This just blows me away.
So where does the mass of the elementary particles (quarks and electrons) come from? They are not made of smaller pieces, and are in fact dimensionless points with zero diameter. Fundamental particle masses arise with interactions with the Higgs field, a quantum field that permeates all of reality. It's a deep subject that I won't go into here, but in the 2006 Special Edition of Scientific American magazine on "The Frontiers of Physics", there is a great example. Picture "empty" space as a beach full of children. Picture a particle crossing that region of space as an ice cream vendor arriving. Picture all the children running to the ice cream vendor, thus slowing him down, as if he acquires "mass".
From E=MC2 you can derive M=E/C2. My assumption is that this is how you calculate the equivalent mass of a particle with a given kinetic energy, and it doesn't relate to the acquistion of mass of an elementary particle moving through a Higgs field.
The difference between "mass" and "weight" is that mass has nothing to do with gravity. An object in outer space has no weight, but has mass. Mass is a measure of a body's resistance to acceleration. The mass of a body is different from but proportional to its gravitational weight.
I have had a lot of trouble understanding string theory. An article in the above magazine did wonders to push me over the top on what it is all about.
Quarks and electrons are dimensionless points with zero diameter. These dimensionless points can take on spin and mass, and string theory is a mathematical way to explain how this can happen. String theory says that these dimensionless points are one-dimensional objects, small vibrating loops or strands. These loops or strands are so small that they look like dimensionless points.
Now it gets difficult. For string theory's equations to be mathematically consistent, a string has to vibrate in 10 spacetime dimensions, which implies that 6 extra dimensions exist besides the normal 3 plus time. The extra 6 dimensions are too small to have yet been detected. The three dimensions that we see are expanding and were once much smaller, so it is not difficult to imagine that there are other dimensions that remain small today.
In the mathematics of the 6 extra dimensions, there is something called vacuum energy that has a lot to do with the next topic. Positive vacuum energy acts like antigravity, and causes the three dimensions that we see to grow more and more rapidly. This connects it to the acceleration of the expanding universe. Also involved is quantum tunneling, which is sounding to me like a Higgs field, which also has something to do with the next topic.
There is a lot more to this, but I hope this overview will help. There are also thought to be cosmic strings, infinitely long, stretching across the universe.
Up to recent times, there have been many questions about the universe and the Big Bang that couldn't be answered by the standard Big Bang model. Things like why the expansion of the universe is accelerating, why the universe is precisely flat (all matter plus all gravity equals zero), and why the cosmic background radiation (the small amount of heat left over from the Big Bang) is so uniform.
It had pretty much boiled down to what happened in the first 10-34 (.0000000000000000000000000000000001) second before the Bang. It was something different to have caused what we observe.
In physics, it is normal practice to come up with what could cause certain results, prove it in the mathematics, make testable predictions, and withstand the test of time. About 1980, physicist Alan Guth did just that with his theory of inflation. For his work, he received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in physics, often a precursor to the Nobel Prize.
IMPORTANT: Einstein found many properties of the universe in his equations, properties that were proven years later; especially his cosmological constant that turned out to be the "dark energy" discovered just recently. Guth did the math for an inflationary universe, which required that the universe be flat. Over 20 years later, it was proven beyond a doubt that the universe is flat. Amazing!
Much of the following is a rewording of portions of Guth's book "The Inflationary Universe", and Discover magazine articles, especially the April 2002 article "Guth's Grand Guess".
In the first instant, there was a random fluctuation in zero space-time, somewhat like the well-known random fluctuations in empty space where pairs of positive and negative subatomic particles bubble into being for the briefest of instants, and then disappear. It was a spontaneous event that boiled out of absolutely nowhere by means of an utterly random but scientifically possible process.
In the first .0000000000000000000000000000000000001 (10-37) second of the universe, before the Big Bang, there materialized a speck a billionth the size of a proton. This is the size that Guth calculated. A proton is a component of the nucleus of atoms. Guth's inflationary theory says that what erupted was a "false vacuum", a peculiar form of matter predicted to exist by many particle theorists. A false vacuum is a repulsive gravitational field, one so strong it can explode into a universe. Extraordinarily high densities can lead to a form of matter that would turn gravity on its head, causing it to become repulsive rather than attractive. Importantly, the false vacuum does not thin out during expansion - the density of the energy within it remains constant as it grows.
A false vacuum is quite complicated and beyond me to explain. It involves things like the energy density of a Higgs field, quantum tunneling, quantum field theory, and unified field theory.
The gravitational repulsion of the false vacuum is so strong that it would have launched a period of incredibly rapid expansion. The region would have doubled in size every 10-37 second (again, Guth's calculations). The false vacuum's expansion accelerated exponentially as its repulsive force compounded, and created vast quantities of ever-doubling energy. As the early universe went along doubling every instant, the stuff in it doubled, too - out of nowhere. Matter and antimatter were being created out of the vacuum, keeping the density of the universe constant while it grew. Note that the matter plus anti-matter added up to zero.
This doubling while maintaining constant density is what explains why the universe is flat, and why the cosmic background radiation is so uniform.
By .0000000000000000000000000000000001 (10-34) second the universe expanded by 25 orders of magnitude, to roughly the size of a marble. This is an increase equivalent to a pea growing to the size of the Milky Way galaxy.
The false vacuum is unstable, however, so at some point it "decayed", converting its energy to a hot soup of ordinary particles. From this point onward the scenario would coincide with the standard hot big bang picture, a state of expansion where it now began thinning out. It decayed into a seething plasma of particles such as electrons, positrons, and neutrinos. Note again that the sum of all this is zero. After .000001 second, protons and neutrons began forming. After 3.5 minutes light atomic nuclei began forming. After 300,000 years light atoms (hydrogen, helium) began forming. After 1 billion years galaxies began to form. The universe is still expanding at an ever accelerating rate.
"ALL MATTER PLUS ALL GRAVITY IN THE OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE EQUALS ZERO. SO THE UNIVERSE COULD COME FROM NOTHING BECAUSE IT IS, FUNDAMENTALLY, NOTHING."
Other descriptions of a false vacuum:
A sphere of false vacuum 10-26 centimeter across has a density of a phenomenal 1080 grams per cubic centimeter. For comparison, the density of water is 1 gram per cubic centimeter, and even the density of an atomic nucleus is only 1015 grams per cubic centimeter. If the mass of the entire observed universe were compressed to false-vacuum density, it would fit in a volume smaller than an atom.
A true vacuum is described as empty of matter and energy. A false vacuum is empty of matter but not energy.
A positively curved universe is also called a closed universe. Space-time curves back on itself such that light beams that start out parallel will eventually meet. We used to say that if you shot a bullet and stayed in the same place long enough, the bullet would hit you in the back of your head. A closed universe would eventually stop expanding and collapse in a Big Crunch.
A negatively curved universe is also called an open universe. Parallel light beams will diverge.
In a flat universe, matter, velocity and gravity all balance to put space-time precisely on the dividing line between a "closed" and "open" geometry. This one will expand forever, and all matter will eventually decay to nothing. It will simply evaporate. A flat universe has a far simpler ending.
Have you ever heard that an atom is as porous as the solar system? It's true.
If the nucleus of a hydrogen atom was a BB, the electron in orbit would be 369.4 feet away, more than the length of a football field. If the BB had the density of the nucleus of an atom, it would weigh 10 billion pounds.
For a carbon atom with a nucleus of 12 BB's, the first electron orbit would be 65 feet and the second electron orbit 260 feet away. The carbon atom is 6 times heavier than a hydrogen atom, but 0.70 the diameter of a hydrogen atom (the electron orbits are closer to the nucleus).
A uranium atom would have a nucleus of 238 BB's and 5 electron orbits. The outer orbit would be 106 feet away. A uranium atom is 0.29 the size of a hydrogen atom, but 238 times heavier.
A teaspoon of atomic nuclei would weigh 1 trillion pounds.
One cubic inch with the density of an atomic nucleus would weigh 3.586 trillion pounds.
FYI: calculations (feel free to check me on this)
The nucleus of a hydrogen atom is 2 x 10-13 centimeters in diameter. The electron in orbit is 5 x 10-9 centimeters away. 5 x 10-9 divided by 2 x 10-13 = 2.5 x 104. That means the electron's distance from the nucleus is 25,000 times the diameter of the nucleus.
The density of an atomic nucleus is 1 x 1014 gm/cm3. 1 gram = 0.035 ounce, so the nucleus would weigh 2.1875 x 1011 lb/cm3. A BB has a diameter of 4.5 mm. It's volume is .0477 cm3. Multiplying the "weight" of a cubic centimeter by .0477 gives 1.043 x 1010 = 10,000,000,000 pounds.
For a carbon atom, the first electron orbit is .883 x 10-9 centimeters from the nucleus, and the second electron orbit is 3.52 x 10-9 centimeters away. If the nucleus was 12 BB's, the first orbit would be 4,400 times the diameter of one BB away, and the second orbit would be 17,600 times the diameter of one B-B away.
A uranium atom would have it's outer orbit 7,200 times the diameter of one BB away from the nucleus.
A teaspoon is 5 ml, or 5 cubic centimeters. If one cubic centimeter of atomic nuclei weighs 2.1875 x 1011 pounds, one teaspoon would weigh 1.093 x 1012 pounds.
1 cubic centimeter = 0.061 cubic inch, which would weigh 2.1875 x 1011 pounds. There are 16.393 cm3 in one cubic inch. This gives 3.586 x 1012 pounds per cubic inch, or 3,586,000,000,000 pounds per cubic inch (3.586 trillion pounds per cubic inch).
The mass of an electron is 9.1066 x 10-28 gm. It's density is .7769 x 1011 gm/cm3.
Our sun is just an average star. In about 5 billion years, it will collapse, but the collapse of average stars is not as dramatic as the larger stars. They just become "white dwarfs". Larger stars put on a better show.
To talk about larger stars collapsing, I have to talk a little about atoms. An atom is mostly EMPTY SPACE. If the nucleus was the size of a baseball, the electrons would be something like a mile away. The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons. Neutrons are really a combined proton and electron, making them neutral. The nucleus by itself is extremely dense, and extremely heavy for its size.
When a LARGE star collapses, there is so much gravitational pressure that electrons are pushed into the protons of the atom's nucleus, turning all the protons into neutrons. This becomes a neutron star, made up only of densely packed neutrons, and about the size of Earth. With all the empty space squeezed out of the atoms, it's going to be very heavy, right? In fact, a teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh 1 trillion tons. And you know how ice skaters spin very fast when they pull their arms and legs in? The same thing happens when a star collapses to a neutron star, and it spins hundreds of times per second.
Now I must introduce a concept that may be hard to visualize. Matter can exist as a dimensionless point. It is a point in space with no width, no size, but it can "weigh" anywhere from a little bit to a lot. (In physics, they say "mass", not "weight".) How can it have mass but have no size? Because the matter has INFINITE DENSITY. It's density is so great that it has no size. Einsein found that matter and energy are interchangeable. So, I picture a dimensionless point as a tiny speck of energy, but with no actual hard lump.
Like atoms, neutrons are ALSO mostly empty space! They are made up of three things called quarks which are DIMENSIONLESS POINTS: positive, negative, and neutral. Quarks have mass - not very much - but they have mass, and remember this mass has infinite density.
When a REALLY BIG star collapses, the NEUTRONS are crushed. All the dimensionless points end up as one, and this ONE DIMENSIONLESS POINT has almost as much mass as the original star did.
Now: the HOLE of a black hole is the region AROUND this supermassive dimensionless POINT, where gravity is so intense that light itself cannot escape. That's why the hole is black. This "hole" has a diameter of a few miles. As additional matter falls into a black hole, the dimensionless point remains a point, but it takes on more mass. This makes the diameter of the "hole" larger because there is more gravity. Matter swirls into a black hole like water going down a sink or bathtub drain, like when one of those "whirlpools" form. In fact, I picture a dimensionless quark as a super-tiny black hole.
We canít see black holes, but we can tell where they are. Instead of putting out light that we can see in a telescope, they put out X-rays because of the energy given off from matter being crushed. It is now believed that there is a black hole in the center of our galaxy - and probably all galaxies, and to me galaxies look like they are swirling down a black hole.
Movies make use of black holes for time travel, but of course this could not be possible because you would be crushed to a point. In fact, if you were to fall into a black hole, the force on your feet would be far greater than the force on your head, and you would be pulled apart before you were crushed.
The earth doesn't really pull on things. Surprised? So was I when I found this out. Going to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, picture a big sheet of stretched membrane with a heavy lead ball in the middle. It will make a depression in the membrane. Now put a marble on the sheet. It will roll down to the heavy lead ball. That's how gravity works. Things in space simply "roll down" the sides of curved space. If you drop something, it can't just float where it is. It has to go somewhere, and it follows the line of least resistance. All this happens in 4 dimensions, so space is curved inwardly toward a planet or star at every point around it, but we cannot visualize this.
It helps me a lot to picture the shape of curved space like the inside of a large bowl. For our solar system the sun is at the bottom, and the planets are like marbles going around the inside of the bowl. The faster they go, the higher up the side of the bowl they are. Like the Space Shuttle. It speeds up to go higher, and goes slower to come down.
For the Space Shuttle to go into space, or to push a wheel-barrow up a hill, it is easier to go at an angle than straight up. Picturing the bowl example helps to see this.
All of this actually happens in four dimensions, and time is the fourth dimension.
Isn't it odd that the diameter of the earth's orbit around the sun is 186 million miles, and the speed of light is 186 thousand miles per second?
One half of 186 is 93. Isn't it odd that Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, and the size of the observable universe is 93 billion light years?
Isn't it odd that it takes light 1,000 seconds to cross the earth's orbit?
I now think intelligent life on other planets is far, far less likely than we think. Many things had to happen just right for us to be here.
Our solar system is in a 30 million year orbit around the center of the galaxy. At a point in this orbit we go through a region of asteroids that causes cataclysmic events on Earth. Every 30 million years or so there are mass extinctions of life, like the one 65 million years ago. Humans have evolved during a quiet time.
Now this is amazing: after noting the above facts, I found this in the newspaper 2/13/00: The book "Rare Earth" by Peter D. Ward claims that galactic conditions make it very unlikely that complex life exists anywhere else in the universe. I believe it.
It took 1 billion years for the first non-nucleated single-celled creatures to evolve. It took another 2 billion years for cells to incorporate a nucleus of DNA and begin dividing. Mitochondria were early forms of a lipid-membrane encapsulated DNA molecule and were incorporated into nucleated cells as energy producers. Once these cells started dividing, tubes and receptacles began. Mutations caused great diversity. Only the successes survived. After the cell learned to divide, it took another 2 billion years for intelligent life.
Gravitational force is what releases this energy. Because of the sunís mass, gravitational forces are so great that at the center hydrogen atoms are pushed into each other to make helium atoms, helium atoms are pushed together to make lithium atoms, and so on up to iron. This nuclear fusion (not fission, like the bomb), is what releases the locked up energy in the atom.
The sun's energy is transferred to earth by infrared light. Heat is caused by photons striking atoms, causing atoms & molecules to go into more rapid motion. This is called radiant heat because the air in between is not warm, like feeling the sun on your face on a frigid cold day. Energy for life in plants is from photons striking certain atoms or molecules in leaves, causing photosynthesis. Energy in animals comes from eating plants or from eating animals that ate plants.
The actual lowest level molecular action for the release of energy in the body involves the adenosine triphosphate molecule. From www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Chemistry/MOTM/atp/atp1.htm, there is the following:
"ATP works by losing the endmost phosphate group when instructed to do so by an enzyme. This reaction releases a lot of energy, which the organism can then use to build proteins, contract muscles, etc."
"When the organism is resting and energy is not immediately needed, the reverse reaction takes place and the phosphate group is reattached to the molecule using energy obtained from food or sunlight. Thus the ATP molecule acts as a chemical 'battery', storing energy when it is not needed, but able to release it instantly when the organism requires it."
"The fact that ATP is Nature's 'universal energy store' explains why phosphates are a vital ingredient in the diets of all living things. Modern fertilizers often contain phosphorus compounds that have been extracted from animal bones. These compounds are used by plants to make ATP. We then eat the plants, metabolise their phosphorus, and produce our own ATP."
A while back my son asked "What if the Moon was bigger?" At first, I said it would have to be going faster in its orbit, or it would collide with Earth. The answer hit me the night of Sept. 9, 2001. If the Moon was bigger, we probably wouldn't be here. The Earth impact that caused it would have been bigger, and Earth would probably be cartwheeling through space, or in lots of little pieces. BUT, if the Moon was bigger, and the Earth is as it is now, and based on the "bowl" of curved space around the earth maybe the Moon would be in a higher orbit and going faster. Full moons might happen the same time as they do now, the Moon might appear the same size it is now, and it might have the same gravitational effect on the Earth.
"Sunlight contains all colors. When light rays strike molecules in the atmosphere, some of the light bounces off in a new direction (scattering). The blue light is scattered more than other colors, so to our eye it seems to be coming from all directions, not just from the sun."
But wait. If everyone quit work, all the services that make your life comfortable would go away. The food supply, drinking water, medical service, gasoline, telephone service, electricity, etc. would stop or run out. Life would become savage. People would become violent to survive. There would be no police protection. Crime would go uncontrolled (except that stealing to get rich would not make sense).
Therefore, to have a comfortable life in the remaining 6 months, everyone would have to keep on working and maintain life as usual, but this is not likely. Astronomers who find such a meteor should wait until the last week to announce it, or the government should make people think they will be diverting the meteor.
My 8th grade science teacher, Mrs. Catherine Dale, was in charge of the high
school science fairs while I was there. I made an exhibit every year, and
when I was a senior (1956-57), she said if I ground a mirror and built a
telescope I would win a first place at the Indiana state science fair.
I ordered a "how to" book, ground and polished a 6" f/10 mirror, had it coated by metal evaporation, and built this reflector telescope - even the tripod. To correct the mirror to within a millionth of an inch, you shine light from a pinhole on it, and in the reflected pinhole you slide a razor blade into it. The imperfections show up like hills and valleys. Yes, I did win a first place at the state science fair at Purdue University.
Because I built this telescope, I got "in" with Clyde Tombaugh (discover of Pluto) and a job working for him at the New Mexico State University Observatory and Research Center. This is how I worked my way through college. Thank you, Mrs. Dale.
The picture above is the only one of me with the finished telescope, and taken with a cheap Brownie camera. Even with computer enhancement, it is still poor quality.
33% of world population; includes Catholic, Protestant
(over 1,200 denominations), and Eastern Orthodox.
Differing interpretations of Biblical creation from a 7-day creation
around 6,000 years ago, to a God-guided 14-billion year formation and
22% of world population.
Muslims believe that Allah created the universe
and life. Some of the accounts in the Qur'an are very close to modern
scientific thinking and Muslims accept some scientific theories of creation, such
as cosmology. They do not believe that they challenge the accounts in the Qur'an but
instead help them to understand more about Allah and the way in which he works.
However, other scientific theories, such as evolution, conflict with Islamic beliefs.
15% of world population. Very interesting document at
The material for the universe came from within God. The universe is a
manifestation of God. The sun is God. Air is God. The Earth is God. Apparently
this must mean the Big Bang itself was God.
14% of world population. Creation is more or less as science says it was.
6% of world population. See
There are many universes of experience, and every living being exists in its own
universe. For Buddhists the creator of the universe of experience is not an
external being, but your own Karma. The universe is always in a state of
becoming. Creation did not happen a short time or a long time ago, because
creation is happening right now.
0.2% of world population; same creation belief as Christianity.