Monday, April 21, 2014

The Big Bang

Fox TV
The return of the TV show Cosmos, now hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has given me a reason to watch TV on Sunday evening, a reason that has nothing to do with my usual Sunday evening viewing of PBS.  I love science fiction, especially stories grounded in reality, so I'm really enjoying learning more about reality with this show.  I missed the original hosted by Carl Sagan, but his spirit seems to be infused in the current show.  Tyson has talked about his connection with Sagan and how much he admired him. 

I've been especially happy to see this show on TV draw more attention to space and earth's place in the solar system and universe.  There's a sense that we in America have begun to take for granted too much science and the breathtaking discoveries in recent years, e.g. the Higgs boson.  And in recent weeks, we earthlings have also learned about how much we don't know about our own planet as teams from different nations search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the south Indian Ocean, a place largely unexplored before now, and with some of the deepest seabeds on the planet.

A month ago, Time magazine reported on a spectacular discovery made by a team of researchers headed by John Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  This team's work has confirmed the existence of gravitational waves produced by an inflationary universe (the universe is expanding and has been since the nanosecond after the Big Bang) which were set in motion by the Big Bang.  I was thinking about this research when Dr. Tyson, on Cosmos, was talking about black holes and his speculation that the creation of a black hole, perhaps in another universe, set our universe in motion, and perhaps the black holes in our universe are the portals to other universes.  Of course, one would have to survive the massive gravitational forces at the event horizon in order to successfully enter a black hole to confirm Tyson's hypothesis.

How often do you go outdoors to look at the stars at night?  The best nights are during a new moon.  When I was growing up, my family owned a house on a man-made lake not far from the small city in upstate New York where we lived.  We spent summers at that house.  One of my favorite pastimes was to paddle the canoe at night to the middle of the lake, lay down in the bottom of it, and drift staring at the amazing dome of stars above.  It felt like I was floating through space.  It also felt comforting, not intimidating, even though it made me aware of how small I was on the scale of the universe.  It amazes me today that what I gazed upon back then was only part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is only one of thousands, if not millions, of galaxies in the universe.

Photo: Andy from Wikimedia Commons
During my weekend on the North Shore a few weeks ago, away from the residual urban light that makes looking at the night sky difficult, I enjoyed gazing up at the night sky over frozen Lake Superior and the millions upon millions of stars.  As the universe expands, so does the mind observing it.  We watched Cosmos that Sunday evening.  We also watched The Big Bang Theory, a comedy show which surprises by how much science they manage to slip into it....  

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