Archive | December, 2012

In the Beginning…

12 Dec

We live in a very weird and complicated place known as the universe. We’ve been told that it all started when something really small blew up, causing matter to scatter all over the place to form stars and galaxies that form our universe. We were also told that this event is called the “Big Bang”. The problem is that what we’re told about how the universe “started” is not entirely true.

There was never an explosion, even though the term “Big Bang” suggests that. Just a very rapid expansion and cooling down of everything that exists in the universe, including space and time itself. So if we rewind this expansion, we can find out where everything came from, right? Not entirely, but we can get pretty close by tracing everything back to right after a point known as a singularity.

The universe was extremely dense, hot and small. From that point on, it kept expanding and cooling down so much that after approximately 324,000 years, things were cool enough for the first electrons to bond with nuclei (protons and neutrons) to form the very first atoms. About 60,000 years later, the decreasing density of the universe allowed for light to shine through it. The process continued and gravity forced gases to collapse onto themselves to form stars, and eventually galaxies.

Here we are today, about 13 billion years later, and the universe is still expanding at an increasing rate. We might not be able to observe other galaxies in the future (if we’re around for that long), since the universe expands faster than the light from other galaxies can reach us. But that is the future. How about the beginning? We managed to go as far back as a point right after everything was a singularity. What happened before that? Science as we know it cannot offer much of a solution when dealing with a singularity. It’s a point of infinite mass and gravity with zero volume. There is no up, down, here, there, before, now and after. We cannot imagine a place with such characteristics, neither can science explain much about it. Interestingly enough, a singularity can be found in a black hole that sucks everything into an infinite point of gravity and mass. So the idea of everything coming out of “nothing” is kind of like a reverse black hole.

The unsettling part is that there might be a lot more going on than we know — or will ever know! Whether our universe came from the “other side” of a black hole in another universe, or extra dimensions are at play, or whatever the case may be, it’s far beyond our experience to fully understand what’s going on. What we can understand though, is that the Big Bang was not an explosion, and definitely not the beginning of everything. It is simply an expansion of everything (including energy, time and space) that took place from fractions of a second after the singularity. That very expansion carries on today, and into the future. Essentially, the Big Bang theory doesn’t explain the beginning of the universe, but we’re getting closer and closer to whatever that beginning may be!

My Favorite Website!

5 Dec

It’s not about cars. Neither is it about sports. Not even music. In fact, it probably sounds like the most boring website in the world — or perhaps the universe, if you’re convinced of extraterrestrial life. It’s called “Ask a Mathematician/Ask a Physicist”,  and you can find it at: www.askamathematician.com

So how could such a boring website be my favorite? For starters, the website is geared towards those who have an interest in math/physics to begin with, which I do. The writers make posts (much like a blog) based on questions emailed to them, and there’s a comments section for each post. What makes this website interesting is how the writers go about the topics. Rather than using scientific terms and talking about complicated formulas, they explain concepts using simple language and images/animations to get the point across to the average Joe.

To give you an idea of why this website is super awesome, I’ll use a metaphor. Think about the strenuous process that goes into making coffee. There’s a plant that takes forever to grow, then someone has to collect the beans, store them, grind them, and eventually brew what’s left to make a cup of coffee. A process that takes many, many months. A coffee addict like yours truly, only cares about the cup of coffee, which takes a few minutes to drink. The same idea is true with “Ask a Mathematician”, as it gives you the final and most practical results of years of science experiments carried out in laboratories. And it’s not boring. For example, in a post like “Could Kurt Voneget’s ‘Ice-9 catastrophe’ happen?”  , the writers respond to a sci-fi phenomenon based on actual physics, without all the math and physics that will bore every single one of us. I seriously doubt even Einstein looked forward to solving equations.

I stumbled across this website when I was curious about how atoms work. I was curious as to how a particle (atom) that’s over 99% empty space, could make up something solid. Shouldn’t you and I both be 99% empty space? Well, we are, as explained in this post. I found answers to many more similar questions on this website, and I find it pretty awesome that I can get answers without doing all the math and experiments which I have no knowledge of.  This is much like how I find it awesome that I can get a cup of coffee handed to me in my car without having to plant a plant, process its beans, and brew it! The only difference, I don’t have to pay a buck or two every time I come across an intriguing post. So even if you have absolutely zero interest in science, but an idea or concept from a sci-fi movie tickled your fancy, then you most certainly should pay www.askthemathematician.com a visit!