Clues to our Universe in 'Big Chill' not Big Bang?

Scientists have claimed that the start of the Universe should be modelled not as a Big Bang but a 'Big Chill' like water freezing into ice.

Physicists from the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have suggested that by investigating the cracks and crevices common to all crystals - including ice - our understanding of the nature of the Universe could be revolutionised.

"Ancient Greek philosophers wondered what matter was made of: was it made of a continuous substance or was it made of individual atoms? With very powerful microscopes, we now know that matter is made of atoms," lead researcher on the project, James Quach said.

"Thousands of years later, Albert Einstein assumed that space and time were continuous and flowed smoothly, but we now believe that this assumption may not be valid at very small scales," Quach added.

"A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms.

These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly," Quach said in a statement.

Quach and colleagues believe they may have found a way to see them indirectly.

"Think of the early universe as being like a liquid. Then as the universe cools, it 'crystallises' into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorised this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice," Quach said.

Some of these defects could be visible, his colleague said.

"Light and other particles would bend or reflect off such defects, and therefore in theory we should be able to detect these effects," Professor Andrew Greentree from RMIT University said.

The team has calculated some of these effects and claim that if the predictions are experimentally verified, the question as to whether space is smooth or constructed out of tiny indivisible parts will be solved once and for all.

The study was published in the journal Physical Review D.

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