So I was intrigued when I saw this space related programme on television - not your usual Discovery channel rubbish - this was a Channel 4 programme and I loved it - addressing a number of key questions......
Philosophers and theologians have long debated
our purpose in the universe, and I am no exception when it comes
to contemplating where we fit in the grand scheme of things. We
have always assumed that there is some higher purpose for humanity,
but it seems that when studying the universe, it seems to have other
Arguments about the very nature and fabric
of the universe stretch back to the pre–Socratic philosophers, yet
the bedrock of 20th century science was to understand that we and
everything else are made up of atoms. There are 92 types of naturally
occurring atoms, allowing for billions of different combinations
and forming the chemical components that underlie everything, from
the simplest crystals to the most complex objects that we know of
– human beings.
Humans contain 10,000 trillion trillion atoms
which are linked together in a very complicated way, and that building
something as complex as we are is not simply a matter of massing
atoms together. The difference between a dead thing (such as a crystal)
and a living thing is not what they are made of....they are both
made of the same building blocks. Rather it is the complexity within
which they are put together, and the way you get this fantastic
complexity of life is down to the arrangement of these atoms in
new and different ways.
Thus far it has taken nature around four
billion years to get from the simplest life forms on primordial
earth to the complex life forms of today. We just don't know what
happened!! However what we do know is that the staggering variety
of different substances would never have been possible if the universe
hadn’t created the 92 different types of atoms that underlie everything
that we know about.
In attempting to figure out our origins in
the universe and understanding how and why nature created us, we
have to understand where atoms come from. To do that we have to
look not to the earth, but to the stars. The big bang is the cosmological
answer as to how the universe was born following a giant explosion
around 14 billion years ago. However the story of creation does
not end with the big bang...the early universe was not like it is
today...the rich variety of atoms that exists now had not been created.
The universe was nothing more than a diffuse uniform gas consisting
of just two of the most basic types of atoms – hydrogen and helium.
However nature somehow turned these fundamental
atoms into the 92 atoms we now have today. According to scientists
the main force that changed the universe from being simple and boring
to being rich and complex was gravity. Due to the fact that it attracts
everything gravity was able to draw great loads of these hydrogen
and helium atoms together to form objects that we now see
littered across the sky – stars. All the atoms we see around us
are found in stars, yet to begin with stars were made of just helium
and hydrogen. tars are the atomic factories of the universe, creating
new atoms in a fusion reaction. As the temperature at their cores
rose higher and higher, one by one smaller atoms fused and transformed
into bigger atoms building up all of the 92 atoms. It is only when
the star runs out of nuclear fuel that it core collapses which causes
it to spectacularly explode in what is called a supernova. In the
process these explosions spew out all these manufactured atoms,
the raw ingredients of everything.
Okay so cosmologists had figured out how
the most complex things were created, yet their findings lacked
a crucial ingredient which remained undetected for decades. Back
in the 1930s a few astronomers recognised the fact that galaxies
should have been thrown apart by their own masses, had they not
been held together by something more than the gravitational pull
of all visible matter. For decades they were a little reluctant
to take the idea on board, choosing instead to identify some form
of 'cosmic glue' holding the galaxies together. However astronomers
later called this glue 'dark matter'. They deduced that the majority
of the universe is not atomic at all, in fact nearly 85% of it is
made from this dark matter. hat they couldn't work out is how
it fitted into the story of our creation.....
Unlike atoms we know relatively little about
this dark matter, it passes straight through atomic matter and emits
no light or radiation, making it very difficult to detect or measure.
The only reason we know it exists from its gravitational pull...yet
according to scientists we need this dark matter and its gravitational
pull to form things like galaxies. If it wasn't for this extra pull
we wouldn't be here today.
In understanding what the universe
has in store for us we have looked into the past to see how
it has evolved. Since the Big Bang the universe has been expanding
outwards, but it has long been assumed that this expansion has been
slowing down as the gravitational pull of matter attempts to draw
everything back together. However through studying supernovas scientists
have discovered something rather alarming, the universe is not slowing
down....but expanding faster. Whilst we claim to know much about
the universe it would seem that a force exists that could not only
counteract, but overcome all the gravity in the entire cosmos and
drive it to expand faster and faster. This is called dark energy,
and its role appears to be destroy everything that dark matter has
helped to create....