The Big Bang Will Be Televised

Or, more precisely, the Big Bang is being televised. Find out what station to turn to in order to see the last vestiges of the glorious birth off all that is or ever will be. When Lost isn't on.

Fourteen billion years ago, everything in the universe was contained in the size of a single pinhead. Actually, that's understating the case. A pinhead gives people a recognizable thing to picture. The universe was contained to a single point. And every thing wasn't contained in that one dense point, every distance, every shape, every dimension was as well. When the Big Bang happened, size and space were created along with everything else.


Most universes would be perfectly happy being a point. There's no need for throwing elbows out into a bunch of different directions and dimentions. Our universe, though, was young and headstrong, and what can I say? It went out and banged.

For the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was a tasty ragout of photons and quarks, all off on their own. But it was tough out there. Photons couldn't make it through the universe without being roughed up and scattered by other elementary particles. That kind of anarchy couldn't continue. Lightweight nuclei, like hydrogen and helium, were formed, and the universe went from stew to broth, letting photons pass through.

These photons form what is now known as Cosmic Background Radiation, which is the most accessible proof of the Big Bang.


It was so accessible, in fact, that is was discovered by accident. A couple of scientist were setting up a microwave receiver, and were annoyed that, no matter what, they were getting some noise. They tried pointing it away from major cities. They tried to shelter it from the sun. They even climbed up and shooed pigeons away from it, on the off chance that pigeons had stopped being content with just pooping on people's cars and wanted to emit microwaves to kill everyone.


(You know they would if they could.)

The noise remained.

For a while they were convinced that it was microwave radiation from the Milky Way galaxy. That might have made sense, if the Milky Way were even all around earth. Instead, the Milky Way is disc-shaped, so the receiver should have picked up more signals from the ‘sides' of the disc, and less when it was pointing up and away from the disc. There was only one event that could result in the same signal being received no matter where in the universe the receiver was pointed. The scientists who thought they were listening to noise were actually picking up the ancient, cold, and footsore photons from the Big Bang itself.


And so can you. Uncouple your TV from anything that would give it a strong signal. Change the channel until all you see is snow, and all you hear is static. Most of that will be the various electromagnetic signals bouncing around earth. A small percentage, though, will be leftover echoes of the Big Bang.

And after that, you can change the channel to Lost. I know you want to.

[Via The Exploratoreum and NASA and Suite 101.


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