Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Things That Make You Go Wow!

(Cartoon by Jen Sorensen/3/18/14 and published at the Daily Kos.  Click on image to enlarge and then be kind enough to return.)

I'm always amazed and impressed by scientific discoveries -- especially those that deal with cosmological issues.  An announcement of a HUGE discovery was made yesterday and reported on for us lay folk today.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Scientists staring at the faint afterglow from the universe's birth 13.8 billion years ago have discovered the first direct evidence for the theory of cosmic inflation — the mysterious and violent expansion after the big bang.

The findings, made using radio telescopes at the South Pole, support the idea that our known cosmos make up just a tiny fragment in a much larger, unknown frontier that extends far beyond the reaches of light.

During this period of inflation, which happened just a fraction of a second after the big bang, the universe ballooned from smaller than an atom to 100 trillion trillion times its original size, at a rate faster than the speed of light.

The research, submitted to the journal Nature for publication, also provides direct evidence of ripples in the structure of space-time made by gravitational waves, and it affirms the often tense link between quantum mechanics and Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity. ...

Scientists have long wondered why this faint background light is so uniform across the sky, Carlstrom said. Stars clump into galaxies, and galaxies cluster together unevenly across the heavens.
 But no matter where you look, the cosmic microwave background seems to look essentially the same.
Why was the cosmic microwave background so smooth while all the stuff that came after it looked so lumpy?

In 1980, theoretical physicist Alan Guth of MIT came up with an answer: All that stuff from the early universe had originally been in a single tiny spot when it was ripped outward in a violent expansion.
Because the universe was compressed and experienced a single sudden expansion, the characteristics of the background radiation would be roughly the same.

It would require a massive spurt of inflation that scientists could barely comprehend. In less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the universe popped into existence, the newborn cosmos expanded from the size of a tiny subatomic particle to roughly the size of a basketball.

As the universe continued to expand at a slower rate and then cool, it carried with it the signature of this early trauma. ...

The signal from the cosmic background microwave has weakened over time, making it exceedingly difficult to find the signature of this ancient inflation behind all the cosmic "noise."

The only hints could come from distortion in the fabric of space-time, created by the trauma of inflation. That could be detected by looking for a particular pattern of polarized light in the cosmic microwave background, known as B-mode polarization.

The theory was that sudden inflation, based on Einstein's theory of relativity, should cause an onslaught of gravitational waves that ultimately would change the polarity of the background radiation, leaving behind a distinctive swirling pattern.   [Emphasis added]

These discoveries don't "just happen," they are the culmination of years of hard work and a whole lot of creativity to build the technology to help answer the questions and then prove/disprove the hypotheses.  That's what happened here, and this old broad is hopping-foot-to-foot excited, pleased, and very impressed with the people who worked to pull us this far in our knowledge.

And to my co-religionists who pooh-pooh the findings and mouth the same old nonsense of "6,000 years", I say this:  "I'm sorry your god has such a low opinion of humankind that he didn't give it any brains and any work ethic.  My God is bigger than that, and s/he is cheering loudly."


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Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

That cartoon is brilliant.

10:54 AM  

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