Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Forget the Big Bang: The Universe 'froze' it's way
into existence in a Big Chill, say physicists

  • University of Melbourne suggest theory could 'revolutionise' our understanding of the universe
  • Theory suggests the universe moved from a 'fluid' state to a fixed state of three spatial directions
  • Investigating ice crystals could lead to understanding of 'cracks' in time and space
The traditional image of the birth of the universe suggests that all matter sparked into existence in a cataclysmic Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago.
But this model is now being challenged by a theory which suggests the universe froze its way into existence in what has been deemed a 'Big Chill'.
Theoretical physicists at the University of Melbourne said the best metaphor for the start of the universe should be considered as water freezing into ice.
In this theory, the three spatial dimensions and the one dimension of time 'froze' into place - and the physicists suggest we could learn about the 'cracks in time and space' by investigating the natural cracks in ice particles.

The Big Chill: Physicists from the University of Melbourne suggest we view the universe and the four known dimensions as 'freezing' their way into existence
The Big Chill: Physicists from the University of Melbourne suggest we view the universe and the four known dimensions as 'freezing'  their way into existence

The eternal spark: The traditional view of the universe creation is the Big Bang, when matter burst into existence
The eternal spark: The traditional view of the universe creation is the Big Bang, when matter burst into existence

They say our understanding of the nature of the Universe could be revolutionised by investigating the cracks and crevices common to ice crystals.
Lead researcher on the project, James Quach said current theorising is the latest in a long quest by humans to understand the origins and nature of the Universe.
He said: 'Ancient Greek philosophers wondered what matter was made of: was it made of a continuous substance or was it made of individual atoms?
'With very powerful microscopes, we now know that matter is made of atoms.
'Thousands of years later, Albert Einstein assumed that space and time were continuous and flowed smoothly, but we now believe that this assumption may not be valid at very small scales.'
He added: 'A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms.

SO HOW DID THE UNIVERSE FORM?

There are many theories as to how the universe formed.
The Big Bang - which suggests that all the matter in the universe exploded from a single dense point - is the most popular model.
There are differing schools of thought about how this type of universe will end.
Will it continue expanding forever, eventually dying a cold death as the stars burn out?
Alternatively the universe could stretch and 'bounce back' into a single point, leading to an endless cycle of universes contracting and expanding.
Or the universe may be eternal - known as the 'steady state' theory which suggests there is no beginning or no end.
Other popular theories suggest we could be part of a multiverse - one of many universes connected together, each with slightly different physical properties, or simply that the universe is a hologram or computer simulation.
'These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. 
'The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly.'
However Quach and his colleagues believe they may have figured out a way to see them indirectly.
He said: 'Think of the early universe as being like a liquid.
'Then as the universe cools, it "crystallises" into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today.
'Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice.'
RMIT University research team member Associate Professor Andrew Greentree said some of these defects might be visible.
'Light and other particles would bend or reflect off such defects, and therefore in theory we should be able to detect these effects,' he said.
The team has calculated some of these effects and if their predictions are experimentally verified, the question as to whether space is smooth or constructed out of tiny indivisible parts will be solved once and for all.

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