Here’s an interesting one – I’m going to include an email verbatim that I wrote to Phil Plait, awesome astronomer guy, after reading one of his books. The Big Bang Theory seems so counterintuitive–that things accelerate faster as they go on–that I had trouble relating to it – I had nothing to compare it to. On Earth if things explode, they eventually LOSE acceleration (due to friction, air resistance, etc…)
At the time, I had come up with an alternative hypothesis. As I say in the email, I’m sure I’m not the first to think of it, but based on my rudimentary knowledge of astronomy, I couldn’t figure out WHY it was impossible, assuming that someone had refuted it along the way. It still seems to be a feasible explanation to me. I never got a response. I post it now with the original dates so that, if someone ever makes a mint in the astronomy community (ha!) on this new theory, I can try to sue them for a piece of that.
Rereading it today, it isn’t the clearest, and there are typos, but forgive me. Thoughts?
Question about universal expansion
I am a very new fan of the Bad Astronomy blog, as well as someone who just finished Death From the Skies (which I enjoyed a great deal), and I will start by apologizing for what I fear will become a painfully long email. After all, I’m asking only one question. (I hope you’re the type who somehow finds time to slog through, and respond to, your emails.)
I had a thought that I’m assured has been conceived before, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why it couldn’t be possible. I’m not saying I’m the next Poe (an unlikely source from whom a huge leap in astronomy comes – after all I’m a comedy writer with a degree in acting), but it’s a question I’ve love disproved nonetheless if it’s already been theorized and debunked by people paid to have a much stronger grasp of this stuff than I do.
In reading the chapter about universal expansion and the Big Bang, the idea that the other two theories (of the Big Collapse and of uniform expansion) were discredited once it was determined that the acceleration rate of, well, everything is increasing sorta blew my mind. I had trouble wrapping my head around it. The only way I could possibly envision increased acceleration to nothingness was to think of the universe as an endless, frictionless volcano and the Big Bang basically dropped all matter on its slopes, to forever accelerate. It’s the only way I could justify acceleration like that.
So [hopefully not mincing words/ideas] you went on to say the generally accepted theory is that the universe is expanding increasingly rapidly (as is attested by the fact that all matter is moving away from us.) And it’s moving in all directions into nothingness. Everything will eventually dissolve beyond the shrinking universal horizon (which I believe I’ve been able to wrap my head around… figuratively.) It all goes ad infinitum towards nothing in particular.
Now here’s where I have a problem. I can’t just accept acceleration continuing forever. It strikes me as… – not pointless, that’s not what I’m looking for. But certainly weird.
Is it possible (six paragraphs in and I finally get to the question) that there could be some very very big mass (far bigger than anything we’ve comprehended) whose gravity is so big it caused the Big Bang? So way over to our right (and this made much more sense when I could act it out with my hands to my wife) we have this super-gravitational orange (it could be something solid or just a really really freakybig black hole – the uberhole.) It’s very very far away (well beyond the universal horizon and therefore out of our view) and its gravity is so strong that ultimately it just saps all the matter from the infinitesimal spot that was the Big Bang beginning. It explodes uniformly (like a circle that continues to increase), but because of the intense gravity of the superorange, all matter makes a pretty quick beeline towards the superorange.
Since the explosion is a “normal” explosion, some matter is ejected backwards and has to make a swooping motion to get to this orange, because the force of the explosion it is able to (on a galactic scale) briefly go in the opposite direction – quite a strong blast. Imagine a firework blowing up sideways on a world with no air friction but strong gravity, and you sorta get my model [thanks go to my wife who got out of bed to give me the example.] This could arc so high and wide that, from our vantage point, the backwards and perpendicular ejecta wouldn’t even be visible because it’d be so far to our side or, more likely, behind us (temporally as well as physically.) Let’s say we were on the side of the explosion that is at least on the orange-half side of the explosion. We’re moving towards the uberorange, and accelerating as it happens. That’s something that makes sense to me – there’s something sucking us in, that’s why we continually increase our speed. (Though, I should add, it would also seem to work if we were at the direct opposite side of the explosion, and we were literally the last possibly piece of matter still getting sucked into the uberorange – everything would still be moving away from us as it all would have gotten a head start into the overwhelming gravity.)
Now I’m positive the number of people who have been considering universal expansion is staggeringly big, so this has to have been thought of before; that we are actually all traveling TO a single point (other than to the starting point, which is illustrated in a theory whose name I forget, but it’s the Big Collapse where the gravity of the universe is great enough to suck it back to the initial Bang.) Basically, it would put something vastly bigger than any SMBH that we’ve conceived out there that provides an impetus for sudden expansion and explain the increased acceleration and well as why we can’t see anything beyond the universal horizon, because what lurks there could be truly scary.
So I suppose the question twofold: a) has this been theorized and b) if so, why was it shot down? My inconceivably limited knowledge of the universe, astronomy, and quantum physics can’t figure out the hole in my admittedly ill-thought out hypothesis that I came up with tonight after finishing your book.
Please answer if you have the time and interest. And if not, continue writing entertaining smart stuff – there’s just not enough of it around.
p.s. I fear the answer may lie somehow in the theory of relativity which, try as I might, I can’t seem to fully comprehend. I say this to illustrate exactly how limited my knowledge is.
p.p.s. If I misread your book and this IS the generally accepted theory, I’ll feel very silly indeed.