Why are we here?





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 ideas.

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....




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