Physics in Action: The Sounds of The Big Bang

Overview:  The Beginnings of The Universe
The astrophysical theory of how the universe began has been nicknamed “The Big Bang.”  All matter was compressed into a incredibly dense, superheated mass singularity that exploded.  The resulting energy caused the rapid expansion of the universe, formation into subatomic particles, elements, stars, galaxies, and everything else.  General relativity and quantum theory support “The Big Bang”.  The most recent observations of cosmic background radiation, as well as the Doppler effect of visual light from faraway galaxies, are observational evidence to cosmologists of the universe’s expansion.

Fundamental Physical Forces
Although there may be a point in the universe’s beginnings that we will never be able to observe, known as the past horizon, we can observe fundamental physical forces on the large scale.  Those elementary forces include gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear forces, and weak nuclear forces.  Gravitation is the most familiar force and the one that works on the largest scale.  It is also the one that is easiest to observe.  Electromagnetism is the basis for interactions between charged particles, whether they are forces of attraction or forces of repulsion.  Strong nuclear forces are those responsible for holding atomic nuclei together, so that the protons found in the nuclei of elements can hold together.  Weak nuclear forces are usually combined with electromagnetic interaction, and they operate of the subatomic level.

Cosmic Background Radiation
One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the beginnings of the universe is cosmic microwave background radiation.  This is a very faint background glow that does not come from other stars, galaxies, or anything else.  It is in all directions of the night sky and is strongest in the same area of the electromagnetic spectrum as microwave energy. The faint radiation, which is below visible light, shows ripples and variations that can only be explained by a time that the universe was expanding in all directions.

Energy Shifts
Most recently, scientists have developed tools to measure the small energy shifts that show up as ripples and variations in cosmic background radiation.  These small energy shifts are behind the expansion of the universe.  Techniques are currently being developed to measure the shape of space-time from those energy shifts.  It is similar to measuring the shape of a vase from the sounds made when it is tapped in different places on the base.  Because cosmic background radiation can be measured from space precisely, measurements of cosmic background radiation exist in all directions.

The Sounds of Space-Time

Most recently, satellites have measured those fluctuations and energy shifts from space.  Physicists have used a mathematical program to translate those tiny shifts into sound.  At the time of the Big Bang, according to theory, those tiny shifts were actual sound waves from when the universe was much smaller and younger, less than a hundred thousand years after the expansion that started it all.

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