Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Wee folk and big bangs


We've all seen the Hubble Ultra Deep Field Photograph, the deepest we have ever looked into space. It covers a part of the sky you could cover with the intersection of crossed sewing pins held at arm's length. And within that miniscule frame, we can see 10,000 galaxies. Across the entire sky, hundreds of billions of galaxies are visible, each with hundreds of billions of stars and planet systems.

It's a big, big universe we live in.

And now the cosmologists tell us it all began as a speck smaller than a proton. It inflated in size every tenth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, until the universe was about the size of a marble. Then it just took its sweet time evolving into the familiar place we know today.

Do you believe that? A pinprick becoming a multiverse? Admit it. You have to put a lot of faith in the cosmologists.

Thirty years ago when we bought our acre overlooking Dingle Bay in Ireland, our neighbor warned us to watch out for the fairies who lived under the hill. I gently pooh-poohed her credulity. Some years later, I was describing the Ice Age glaciers that once covered the mountain. She said: "It’s easier to believe in fairies under the hill than ice on top.

Touché.

Back when I was in the classroom, I thought I made a pretty good pitch for the Big Bang. There's just no other way to explain the observational evidence (so far, at least). But there were always a few students in the back of the classroom who rolled their eyes with disbelief. I was not unsympathetic. It is, after all, "easier" to believe in fairies than in inflationary universes. But Faraday's words are worth keeping in mind: "Nothing is too wonderful to be true."