Big Bang: Proof that the Universe is Expanding Page 1

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By Rahul Gladwin | July, 2000.


From the earliest times, humans have gazed into the heavens and pondered the mystical lights they saw there. The ancients merely observed the movements in the universe in order to predict the coming of floods or the time to offer sacrifices to the gods. The old universe was built on the basis of philosophical and religious thought. Today, after thousands of years, the various breakthroughs in science and technology have enabled us to study and measure the universe extensively and with great precision. Modern technology has pushed us to our maximum limits; we not only care about what the universe looks like today, but what it looked like at the dawn of time. The early 20th century saw some rather bizarre theories about the formation of the universe. Although these theories differ from each other in many ways, they have scientific proof that the universe is not static; the universe is expanding.

The Old Universe:

The old universe conceived by the our ancestors was small, static and earth-centred, and it was full of spirits and mystical creatures (Guth 71). With the passage of time, humans became more intelligent and their thoughts became more complex. The cavemen living at Lascaux caves, thousands of years ago, named the sun the "Sun Spirit" and the moon the "Moon Spirit" (Bergmann 22). They observed their surroundings and made reasons about them. They created their religion by reasoning that there were supreme beings that controlled the universe. Before writing was invented, the ancients had named the celestial bodies (Watson 301). Before ethical values were recognized, they bowed before the sun and the moon. Before the sand-glass or the water-clock were invented, humans followed the heavenly motions, numbering the days, months, seasons and years. To the ancient travellers and navigators, the stars in the sky were signposts that told them the directions (Weizacker 20). To the farmer, the heavens foretold the times of planting and the coming of rain. It was as if God had created the heavens in order to guide the early humans before they became intelligent enough to guide themselves. To the ancient Egyptians, the universe was the body of the goddess Nut (Bergmann 6). Under Nut lay the body of Geb, god of earth. The goddess Nut was supported by the Shu, god of wind. Geb, the god of earth lay on the ground and supported Shu. The sun travelled through Shu.

Beginning of Modern-Day Astronomy:

The study of Astronomy as we know it developed when humans began to study the movements of the celestial bodies in greater detail. Ptolemy, a Greco-Egyptian astronomer systematized a theory: The Universe was revolving around the stationary fixed Earth at its centre (Watson 6). This doctrine was accepted by the Roman Catholic Church and remained unchallenged throughout the Middle Ages. After 1500 years of existence, however, the theory was disproved by a Polish astronomer Nicholas Copernicus who revolutionized the worlds of science, religion and culture. Copernicus claimed that the sun was the centre of the solar system (Watson 11). However, he faced such fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church that he had to withdraw his theory. Galileo, about a hundred years later, again brought up the subject, but was placed under house arrest (Watson 13).

Waning Religious Opposition:

However, by the next generation, Roman Catholic Church-led opposition to a sun-centred universe was waning. Astronomers like Brahe and Kepler studied the heavens and deduced concepts and ideas the world had never heard before. Kepler's laws were the foundation for Newton's Laws of Gravitation (Eddington 63). Using this law, Newton was able to explain many scientific concepts like the trajectories of cannon balls and the tides, and also predict solar and lunar ellipse in greater detail than was ever possible before. Using Newton's laws, astronomers predicted and later discovered the existence of the planets Neptune and Pluto. Even though Newton's equations were the most important work in science, they began to be questioned by scientists (Watson 332). The astronomers' doubt had to do with the propagation of electromagnetic radiation through the stationary space Newton had conceived.

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