On Thursday, May 31, I will have the opportunity of introducing and participating in an evening with the World Science Festival presenting one of the most remarkable observations in all of science: a baby picture of the Universe.
In 1965, in New Jersey of all places, two young scientists who had no idea what they were looking for, observed some unexpected noise in an antenna at the then Bell Laboratories. The noise turned out to be the afterglow of the Big Bang itself. In spite of the fact that we now realize that perhaps 1 percent of the static observed on a television screen exists even when the set is disconnected from cable and tuned to a channel with no broadcasts, this harbinger of our past remained hidden until relatively recently.
The significance of this signal, called the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, or CMBR, is so great that not one, but two different Nobel Prizes were awarded for observations of its nature. The most recent came from a ‘photograph’ that recorded the tiny “anisotropies” in the otherwise smooth background radiation. These small fluctuations—hotspots and coldspots deviating from the mean by less than 1 part in 10,000—reflect the primordial ‘lumps’ of matter that would one day collapse to form everything we see in the universe today—galaxies, stars, and planets, as well as far more that does not shine, and is invisible to telescopes—the so-called dark matter that dominates the overall mass around galaxies by a factor of 5 to 10.
What is remarkable is that we expect that these tiny primordial fluctuations themselves hearken back to the very earliest moments of the Big Bang, when normally invisible quantum mechanical fluctuations in matter and radiation were frozen in and converted to real density fluctuations that would then evolve classically according to the equations of general relativity. If this picture is true, then we are all the children of quantum mechanics.
When we start to investigate how quantum mechanics impacted upon the early universe we are driven to a host of new and strange ideas, including the possibility that everything we see, particles, radiation, even space itself could have arisen out of nothing—no space and no particles. While this possibility sounds like something that should be impossible, and indeed many theologians have argued one needs some supernatural miracle to cause such creation, it is remarkable that the laws of nature themselves can allow for such a possibility without any supernatural shenanigans required.
It is this possibility that have explored, and celebrated, in my recent book, A Universe from Nothing, which reviews the revolutionary developments in physics and cosmology that have taken place over the past 50 years. It is an amazing story, and one worth sharing and celebrating, more broadly. I am hoping that on a Thursday evening in late May, we can do just that.
Lawrence M. Krauss is Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and the author most recently, of the New York Times bestselling book, A Universe from Nothing.
Afterglow: Dispatches from the Birth of the Universe takes place on Thursday, May 31, at 8:00 PM at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
Click here to get tickets