Space has been one of the most fascinating mysteries to man ever since he could look up at the stars. From ancient Greece when man thought the stars were gems in a solid black sky, to the renaissance when the notion of a heliocentric solar system was born, even to now, where as far as technology has taken the understanding of the universe, science had barely begun to scratch at its surface. The universe holds questions yet to be answered, many concepts that still must be explored; black holes, dark matter, and most importantly, the big bang.
As interesting as everything about the universe is, where did it all come from? This question has fueled one of the longest ongoing debates throughout all mankind, as this question goes beyond the realm of science and continues its way toward religion. The closest theory science has to an answer for this question is the highly supported “Big Bang” theory.
The Big Bang Theory is a theory that the universe was once a super-condensed and super-radiated form of what it is now, expanding from the size of the smallest existent particle to the size of grape fruit in the smallest moment, and continually expanding at an exponential rate.
The Big Bang is the birth place of every particle of matter, of every joule of energy, of everything in the galaxy. Before exploring the Big Bang in further depth, it is important to step back and understand how science came to this unanimous acceptance of this theory, which means taking a look at the first events that pointed science in the right direction.
One of the most important astronomic innovations was the creation of the WMAP
(Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe) Satellite. This satellite was approved by NASA back in
1997, 4 years later the WMAP Satellite was sent into orbit. The satellite is capable of detecting the most faint microwave radiation. The WMAP measures 3.8 meters by 5 meters, and weighs
840 kilograms. The WMAP consists of two back to back telescopes that focus microwave radiation and radio it back to earth. What is most important about the WMAP, however, is the discovery that it provided astronomers with.
With the WMAP, astronomers were able to take a look at what the universe looked like when it was a mere 380,000 years old by viewing remnants of microwave radiation through the
WMAP. In this image of the universe, its particles are very crammed and the temperatures are extremely hot, suggesting that the universe has been continuously expanding and cooling. The reason the WMAP satellite can give us these incredible pictures is because the night sky functions similar to a time machine. Because light is limited to a finite speed, it takes a finite amount of time forthe light from starts and other distant sources of energy output to reach us.
Light from a star can take up to ten years or more to reach us, that’s ten or more light years
(approximately 6 trillion miles per year). That being said, the stars we see at night are seen as they once were, not as they are. All we ever see of stars are their old photographs because of how long their light can take to reach us. With this principle the WMAP was able to view an old photograph of the universe via microwaves, and with this new information, astronomers were able to calculate the age of the universe to be about 13.7 billion years old.
Another one of the most important discoveries was made by Edwin Hubble. Hubble proved that the universe was much larger than thought in his time. A big problem during his time was detecting how far the “farthest” stars were. This was difficult because a close and dim star could look just the same as a star that is far and bright. Hubble had a solution. Hubble a star in the Andromeda galaxy to use as a “reference star” to calculate distance among the other starts.
Hubble new that a variable star (called a Cepheid) regularly dimmed and brightened with time.