Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok, Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang (New York: Doubleday, 2007).
(How did the universe begin and how would it end?)
A Book Review by Ozodi Osuji
Steinhardt (of Princeton University) and Turok’s (of Cambridge University) views on the origin and nature of the universe is fascinating. I, therefore, feel an urge to share with those who have not read them what they said.
These two men, one an astrophysicist, the other a mathematical physicist, posit what they call a cyclic universe. I will devote a bit of time to explaining their hypothesis thus the book review will run longer than the usual one or two pages normally devoted to book reviews.
It is not possible to appreciate Professors Steinhardt and Turok’s thesis unless one understands what they are trying to replace; therefore, I will briefly summarize what is generally regarded as the standard Big Bang model of the origin of the universe.
According to the accepted hypothesis on the origin of the universe (separated posited by Lemaitre and Gamow), about 13.7 billion years ago something about the size of a particle (to visualize the size of a particle remember that there are millions of atoms, which particles are parts of, in a period, or, as the British say, full stop mark!) emerged out of nowhere.
Prior to the emergence of that mysterious particle there was nothing in existence; there was no space and time; there was no universe.
Out of that nothingness (which we cannot visualize) something came into being. That something, particle, supposedly was infinitely hot (with temperature in the billions of billions of kelvin, that is, was infinitely hot). At that state the particle was called a singularity; we do not know what it was composed of.
The singularity exploded and within the first second a lot of things happened. Let us see: in that very second the explosion produced space, time and matter. First came radiation (light energy), that is, photons. Some of those photons transformed themselves to electrons; others transformed themselves to quarks. Quarks combined into protons and neutrons (where they have ever remained…they cannot exist outside their coffin of protons and neutrons…at CERN protons are collided with each other and split and quarks are exposed but they immediately return to their sepulcher, protons or neutrons). Within that same all important second protons and neutrons combined into nuclei (of the simplest atoms: deuterium, hydrogen, helium, lithium etc.).
By the end of the first second of its existence the universe was composed of plasma, that is, nuclei, electrons and photons.
During the next 400, 000 years of its existence the universe was composed of this plasma. Somehow, at the mark of 400, 000 years something happened. Nuclei captured electrons and atoms formed. The atoms of the lightest elements, hydrogen (which is 75% of the extant universe) and helium (which is 25% of the universe….the other elements actually do not even constitute a fraction of a percent of the universe!) were formed.
At this stage of the universe’s existence the four forces known by physics are operative; the electromagnetic force that keeps electrons around nuclei; the strong nuclear force that holds protons and neutrons in the nucleus; the weak nuclear force that is responsible for the decay of the nucleus (neutrons decay and give off electrons, photons and neutrinos or become protons) and gravity that attracts objects to each other and keep them in space-time.
The universe at this time is a sea of hydrogen and helium gases. This was the state of the universe for hundreds of millions of years. Thereafter, there was fluctuation in the sea of gases; there was a kind of asymmetry and somehow space emerged between the seas of gases. Clumps of gas had space separating them. The clumps of gases became galaxies (and their stars).
Initially, the stars were massive in size (millions the size of our star, the sun). Those stars did not live long before they died.
Stars form, live and die. The main sequence of events in the life and death of stars is briefly as follows. A clump of hydrogen gas forms. Gravity acts on it and pushes it inwards. As it compacts its core becomes incredibly hot. At a certain point the core ignites and a star is born. By this is meant that hydrogen begins to fuse into helium.
If you recall from your high school chemistry (periodic table) hydrogen is composed of a nucleus that has only one proton with an electron cycling it; and helium is composed of a nucleus with two protons and two neutrons with two electrons cycling it.
(The knowledge about the nature of the atom is perhaps the highest achievement of modern science. In 1803 Robert Dalton resurrected Greek, Democritus idea of the atom as the smallest indivisible part of nature; in 1865 James Clerk Maxwell building on Michael Faraday’s work on electricity noted that electricity and magnetism are correlated. In 1897 Joseph John Thomson discovered the electron; in 1900 Max Planck discovered quanta of light; in 1911 Ernest Rutherford discovered that the atom has a nucleus; in 1913 Neils Bohr observed that the electron circles the nucleus; in 1920 Rutherford suggested that the nucleus could be composed of protons and neutrons; in 1932 James Chadwick discovered the neutron; in 1924 Louis Broglie showed that the electron behaved as light photons did, that is, as both wave and particles; also in the 1920s the amazing geniuses called Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Pauli, Dirac and Born articulated what is now called quantum mechanics, ideas that have changed the world; nothing in our modern world is not influenced by this work; in the 1930s Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner realized that the nucleus could be split if it is bombarded by neutrons; Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer experimentally demonstrated that this is doable and in 1945 the Manhattan Project showed that the nucleus could be split and enormous energy released. Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the testing grounds on which nuclear weapons were tested and shown to be deadly weapons of mass destruction. By the 1950s the nucleus of hydrogen was fused and the hydrogen bomb is born. Luckily, society discovered how to redirect the enormous energy released when the nucleus is split to generating electricity at nuclear power plants.)
Fusion entails a process whereby hydrogen fuses into helium. The sequence is a bit complex; for the purposes of this review let me over simply it: two hydrogen atoms fuse their nuclei to form helium. This fusion generates heat and light (energy).
In the core of stars hydrogen fuse into helium and heat and light (energy) is released. That heat and light work their way to the surface of the star and after travelling for millions of years finally reach the outside of the star and escape as the light we see when we look up and see stars.
As you learned from your high school physics, light travels at the speed of 186, 000 miles per second or six trillion miles per hour. Light takes about eight minutes to travel the 93 million miles between planet earth and the sun and a little over a second to travel the 250, 000 miles between earth and its moon. Light from the farther stars have being in motion, on their journey for billions of years by the time we see them; in fact, some of the stars whose light we see in the night sky have already gone out of existence!