Sunday, September 14, 2008

a creation story

The Universe began 13.7 billion years ago in an immensely hot, dense state much smaller than a single atom. It began to expand. After about a million billion billion billion billionth of a second gravity separated away from the other forces. The Universe then underwent an exponential expansion called inflation. In about the first billionth of a second or so the Higgs field kicked in and the electrons, the quarks and the gluons that make us up got mass.

The Universe continued to expand and cool. After a few minutes there was hydrogen and helium in the Universe. That's all. The Universe was about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. It still is today. It continued to expand for about 300 million years, then light began to travel through the Universe as it was big enough to be transparent to light. That's what we see in the cosmic microwave background. George Smoot described this as looking in the face of God.

After 100 million years the first stars formed and then the hydrogen and helium began to cook into the heavy elements. So the elements of life - carbon and oxygen and iron - all the elements that we need to make us up were cooked in those first generation stars which ran out fuel, exploded and threw the elements back into the Universe. They then recollapsed into another generation of stars and planets and on some of those planets the oxygen which was created in those first generation stars could fuse with hydrogen to form water on the surface.

On at least one of those planets primitive life evolved over millions of years into things that walked upright and left footprints about 3.5 million years ago in the mudflats of Tanzania and eventually left a footprint on another world. And built this civilisation. It turned the darkness into light and you could see the civilisation from space

As Carl Sagan said these are the things that hydrogen atoms do when given 13.7 billion years. The laws of physics are beautifully balanced. If the weak force had been a little bit different then the carbon and oxygen wouldn't be stable inside stars and there would be none of that in the Universe. I think that's a wonderful and significant story. Fifty years ago I couldn't have told that story because we didn't know it. Our civilisation has emerged purely through the laws of physics and a few hydrogen atoms.
- Brian Cox on CERN's supercollider (TED video)

1 comment:

John Larkin said...

Last night on Compass (ABC-TV) I learnt that at least 40 schools across Australia do not teach this creation story but the other creation story, exclusively.