Time Line of the Universe (Image: NASA/WMAP Science Team/Wikimedia)
Today, the scientific community is abuzz with the news that astrophysicists have detected gravitational waves or ripples in the fabric of space-time left over from the Big Bang
The detection of the gravitational waves is a landmark discovery - these waves, first proposed by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity nearly a century ago, are believed to originate from the Big Bang. "Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today," said lead astronomer John Kovac of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar," added team co-leader Clem Pryke of University of Minnesota. Many have likened the major discovery as the "smoking gun" of the Big Bang.
The details of the discovery is fascinating (like how gravitational waves actually "squeeze" space as they travel and have "handedness" just like light waves). Even though the physics of the Big Bang may be over your head, it doesn't mean that you can't chat about it intelligently with your coworkers.
Here are 4 Neat Facts About the Big Bang That'll Make You Look Smart Without Understanding Any Physics that you can use to impress other people:
1. Father of The Big Bang was Actually a Catholic Priest
The first person who proposed the theory of the expansion of the Universe wasn't Edwin Hubble, the astronomer whose name graced the space telescope orbiting the Earth today.
In 1927, Lemaître proposed that "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation," but his new idea had little impact because the journal it was published in was not widely read outside of Belgium. A few years later, when Einstein read the paper, he remarked "your calculations are correct, but your physics is atrocious."
2. "Big Bang" Was Actually A Pejorative
Well, supposedly anyhow.
The name "Big Bang" was coined by British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle* who ridiculed the idea that the universe had a beginning (he likened it as "an irrational process, and can't be described in scientific terms," because that resembled the argument that the universe had a creator). Hoyle believed that the universe didn't have a beginning - it was always there (this "steady state" theory was later debunked). (Photo: Cardiff University/wikimedia)
On March 28, 1949, Hoyle first uttered the name "Big Bang" on a BBC radio broadcast. It was reported that he intended the name to be insulting, a claim that Hoyle later denied. He said that instead, it was a "striking image" for the radio audience meant to emphasize the difference between that, and his steady state theory.
*If you think his name is familiar, that's probably because you've seen the TV series A for Andromeda or read the novel by the same name. It was written by Hoyle and John Elliot.
3. The Big Bang Was First Conceptualized In 1225
L'image du monde by Gossuin de Metz
Seven centuries before modern scientists proposed the Big Bang, a thirteenth-century English scholar named Robert Grosseteste wrote a treatise called De Luce (On Light) in which he explored the nature of matter and cosmos. In that, Grosseteste described "the birth of the Universe in an explosion and the crystallization of matter to form stars and planets in a set of nested spheres around Earth."
According to Tom McLeish and colleagues in this Nature article titled "History: A medieval multiverse," Grosseteste's De Luce is "the first attempt to describe the heavens and Earth using a single set of physical laws." In terms of the Big Bang, Grosseteste proposed an initial explosion of a primordial sort of light called lux, which then expands the universe into an enormous sphere and thinning matters as it goes.
4. Pope Pius XII Thought The Big Bang Proved The Existence of God
The relationship of the Catholic Church and scientists is often cantankerous, but the Church was actually rejoiced when scientists first proposed the Big Bang.
In 1951, Pope Pius XII celebrated the scientific idea of the Big Bang in a speech before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He remarked, "… it would seem that present-day science, with one sweep back across the centuries, has succeeded in bearing witness to the august instant of the primordial Fiat Lux [Let there be Light], when along with matter, there burst forth from nothing a sea of light and radiation, and the elements split and churned and formed into millions of galaxies."
Pius XII thought that the Big Bang actually proved the existence of God: "Thus, with that concreteness which is characteristic of physical proofs, [science] has confirmed the contingency of the universe and also the well-founded deduction as to the epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator. Hence, creation took place. We say: therefore, there is a Creator. Therefore, God exists!"
Later, Georges Lemaître and other astronomers approached the Pope privately and told him that it wasn't a good idea to pin the Catholic faith on a contested scientific hypothesis (as the Big Bang was back then), and the Pope never mentioned the topic again in public.