The Biggest Myth About the Big Bang
13.8 billion years ago, the Universe exploded into existence. Or at least that's what most laypeople probably think of the Big Bang. But as astronomically alluring as that image is, it's also a myth. The simple fact is that physicists aren't certain exactly how the Universe began, or even if it did.
After all, the primordial Universe could have counterintuitively "popped" into being from nothing at all. Or perhaps it existed eternally in another nascent form? Maybe it oozed out of some higher dimension? Heck, as science fiction author Douglas Adams imagined, it could easily have been sneezed out of the nose of a being called the Great Green Arkleseizure.
All of these are perfectly cromulent possibilities (though some are certainly less likely than others), owing to a simple fact: Physics' reach is currently limited to roughly one second after the "Big Bang." Everything before then is left to learned speculation and hypothesis.
“We don’t have any idea what happened at the purported moment of the Big Bang," Caltech astrophysicist Sean Caroll recently admitted on Science Friday. "Cosmologists… sometimes exaggerate a little bit about what it means."
That's not to say that cosmologists don't know anything. Boatloads of evidence and observation support the notion that the entire Universe was once unfathomably dense and hot, and confined to a vastly smaller area. Moreover, it expanded and cooled into everything that is today.
"The Big Bang model… the general idea that the universe has been expanding from a hot, dense early state, that’s 100 percent true…" Carroll clarified.
But the "Bang" itself is very much a myth. On Science Friday, Carroll furnished a far more correct, although decidedly less dramatic definition.
“It’s the time at which we don’t understand what the Universe was doing."
(Image: NASA: Theophilus Britt Griswold – WMAP Science Team)