Sunday, 1 June 2014

Was the big bang a unique event? Astrophysics special

One topic which fascinates me, which I've not talked about previously on this blog is astrophysics. What often amuses me is the fact that, due to my religious allegance, all exchanges with atheists and humanists on the subject to religion always start with them assuming I am a complete imbecile and have no clue about science, especially physics and biology. In fact I have  a keen interest in both subjects. For A levels I studied Physics, Biology and Maths with Stats. I was accepted for a place at QMC to study physics, but due to my obsession with my band and punk rock music (and possibly dyslexia, but I won't blame that as I was too busy playing guitar and not busy enough on the revision), I didn't get the required grades. It was always my intention to go back, resit my physics and Maths A levels and do an Astrophysics degree. Here I am aged 51 and I finally realised that this isn't going to happen. I have too many distractions, not least this blog.

My interview at QMC was quite funny really. At the time, I used to babysit for my brother quite regularly. He is a science buff and subscibes to Scientific American and New Scientist. I used to spend my evenings babysitting drinking cider and reading these mags. I was fascinated with the arguments about the origins of the universe, the big bang and the arguments then about black holes. There was a brilliant article about black holes in Scientific American, I bought the mag and at the interview discussed this with the head of Physics at QMC. He hadn't read it and so I pulled out the mag and gave it to him. I got  a low offer as a result (not low enough though !).

There are all manner of questions in the domain of Astrophisics which intrigue me. For example, before the big bang, what was the diameter of the "lump" that became the universe. I've alwasy been intrigued as to how big black holes really are. The concept of a black hole is that there is so much mass in such a small place that the forces of gravity prevent everything, even light from escaping. If we take the argument to its logical conlusion, if you put all the matter in the whole universe into a black hole, you get a "big bang". To me this seems too neat. At present the view is that the Universe is expanding. Given the forces of gravity, the rate of expansion is slowing. At some point, the Universe will start contracting and in several billion years time, it will collapse upon itself as all the black holes merge into one. Eventually all of the matter in all of the Universe will be present in One black hole. At this point, will we get a new "big bang". Perhaps an even more interesting point is whether the next big bang will result in exactly the same things happening, in the same order and the same sequence forever. Will I be writing this very blog in a few billion years time. Or will it be like Groundhog day where we get the opportunity to do it all, but in a little bit better a manner?

Another question which interests me is whether the place at the centre of the Universe (ie the location of the original big bang) is the most desolate, empty place of all. Where is it and is there anything which was left there? Clearly the big bang was a chaotic and cataclysmic event, but was anything left of the old order? Did everything fall into the black hole before the big bang?

Another thing which intrigues me is whether the Earths atmosphere is leaking away or whether the Earths gravity is attracting stray atoms and it is being augmented. For example this article explains the process of the atmosphere leaking but makes no mention of the capture of stray atoms. Interestingly I've not found anything which attempts to estimate this. Clealry there are variables, such as the change in the heat output and size of the sun. The sun being far more massive than earth clearly will also capture more stray atoms, yet I've not really seen any seen any studies into the "replenishment" of the suns resources, via gravitational attraction.

Another subject which fascinates me on the subject of the big bang is the speed of the particles expelled in the big bang. The theory of relativity states that you cannot travel faster than the speed of light, but we also know that light cannot escape a black hole. There are some rather interesting articles on the maths of the internal structure of black holes. Such things are probably at the "difficult" end of the spectrum of astrophysics as the internal workings of black holes are not measurable. if you are interested this is a rather interesting study of the subject, it is incredible just how far the study of the subject has come on in the last thirty two years since I had my interview at QMC.

There is nothing I'd prefer to do than spend my time researching, studying and blogging about these subjects. Sadly I'm lumbered with writing about local Politics in Barnet. God clearly has a sense of humour (assuming he/she exists). But one thing on my bucket list, is to spend an evening at the University of London Observatory in Mill Hill. Because that building was what started my obsession with the whole thing (well that and the Apollo moon landings). The observatory was originaly set up by comedial Will Hay, an amatuer astronomer (responsible for discovering the White Spot on Saturn).

You may wonder why I chose this particular moment to share this. Well today I was walking past the Observatory and I considered the demise of the National Institue for Medical Research in Mill Hill. It made me consider how our local Council don't seem to care about the loss of centres of excellence and inspirational buildings. Sure I became a punk rock guitarist, studio owner and blogger, but I've always been proud of our local area and its contribution. Over the course of my lifetime, here's just a few massive losses to our local economy and cultural heritage.

The Royal Air Force HQ in Hendon.
The Metropolitan Police Training Academy in Colindale
The National Newspaper Library in Colindale
The National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill
The Missionary Institute College in Mill Hill
Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon

That is why the Observatory becomes ever more precious, to me if no one else. 

1 comment:

baarnett said...

"For example, before the big bang..."

Who's holding the clock, in such a situation?