That Other Universe

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  1. Multiverse
  2. Is there life beyond Earth? A astronomy class with Dr Stuart Clark
  3. Parallel Universes: Theories & Evidence | Space
  4. Arguing for a multiverse

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Magee, and P. The Universe, as far as the most powerful telescopes can see even in theory , is vast, huge and massive. In fact, the evidence indicates something quite to the contrary. If you learn nothing else about the Big Bang, it should be this: the Universe was not constant in space or in time, but rather has evolved from a more uniform, hotter, denser state to a clumpier, cooler and more diffuse state today. The observable Universe might be 46 billion light years in all directions from our point of view, but there's certainly more, unobservable Universe just like ours beyond that.

This has given us a rich Universe, replete with many generations of stars, an ultra-cold background of leftover radiation, galaxies expanding away from us ever-more-rapidly the more distant they are, with a limit to how far back we can see. That limit is set by the distance that light has had the ability to travel since the instant of the Big Bang.


Inflation set up the hot Big Bang and gave rise to the observable Universe we have access to, but we can only measure the last tiny fraction of a second of inflation's impact on our Universe. Image credit: Bock et al. But theoretically, what we learn is even more tantalizing.

That phase, a period of cosmological inflation, describes a phase of the Universe where rather than being full of matter and radiation, the Universe was filled with energy inherent to space itself: a state that causes the Universe to expand at an exponential rate. Image credit: E. We can think about inflation as occurring at the top of a very flat hill, like a ball rolling slowly down it.

As long as the ball remains near the top of the hill, rolling slowly, inflation continues, and the Universe expands exponentially. Once the ball rolls down into the valley, however, inflation ends, and that rolling behavior causes the energy to dissipate, converting the energy inherent to space itself into matter-and-radiation, taking us from an inflationary state into the hot Big Bang.

Inflation ends top when a ball rolls into the valley. But the inflationary field is a quantum one middle , spreading out over time. Just as there are an infinite number of similar yet slightly different universes like the one in which you have written this column not me , there will also be an infinite number in which the basic laws of physics are different.

So, every possible combination of physics is tried out across the multiverse. Inevitably then, by nothing more than blind luck, at least one will have the conditions we see around us today. One of the most vocal opponents of the multiverse theory is — ironically — one of its original architects.

Is there life beyond Earth? A astronomy class with Dr Stuart Clark

Paul Steinhardt, Princeton University, helped develop inflation, the theory of the origin of our universe. So, we have not explained any feature of the universe by introducing inflation after all. We have just shifted the problem of the original big bang model how can we explain our simple universe when there is a nearly infinite variety of possibilities that could emerge from the big bang?

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Maybe the cosmos really is this way and we just have to accept it. Certainly, there are many who are willing to defend the multiverse as a valid direction for thought. Comfortingly, if we do live in a multiverse, we can be assured that somewhere out there is an alternate version of you and me that have already figured all this out and won a Nobel prize for the effort.

Parallel Universes: Theories & Evidence | Space

He will be delivering the Guardian masterclass on Is there life beyond Earth? If there is a multiverse, however, that quest could be doomed to failure. However, Steinhardt turned against his own theory. Our universe is a vast collection of observable matter, like gas, dust, stars, etc. However, this group of physicists is arguing that our universe isn't alone; it's just one in a long line of universes that are born, grow, and die. Penrose and his collaborators follow a cosmological theory called conformal cyclic cosmology CCC in which universes, much like human beings, come into existence, expand, and then perish.

Arguing for a multiverse

As a universe ages, it expands, and the constituent parts grow farther and farther apart from each other. Consequently, the interactions between galaxies that drive star formation and evolution become rarer. Eventually, the stars die out, and the remaining gas and dust is captured by black holes. In one of his most famous theories, Stephen Hawking proposed that this isn't the end; black holes might have a way to slowly lose mass and energy by radiating certain particles. So, after many eons, the remaining black holes in the universe would disappear, leaving only disparate particles.

Seemingly a wasteland, this end-state eventually mirrors the environment of our universe's birth, and so, the cycle starts anew. Artist's logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and Big Bang's invisible plasma on the edge.

When our universe was very young, before any recognizable components like stars, planets, or galaxies formed, it was filled with a dense, hot soup of plasma. As the universe expanded, it cooled, and eventually, particles could combine to form atoms.