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No more encounters, so no more pairings. Things obviously did not end there. Much later, the birth of the stars enabled the formation of heavier elements, from carbon to iron and to uranium, progressively synthesized through a succession of nuclear reactions, within the stars themselves or in explosions of massive stars. In all its phases primordial, stellar, or explosive , nucleosynthesis—the creation of new nuclei from nucleons—started with the basic ingredients, protons and neutrons, which it formed into increasingly heavy nuclei.

NASA - Hands-on Book of Hubble Images Allows the Visually Impaired To "Touch the Universe"

The appearance of chemical elements in the universe is therefore in no way a creation ex nihilo. On the contrary, it is the culmination of the processes that produced the elements. The question then is where did the protons and neutrons come from? Particle physicists have now answered this question: from the combination of quarks in groups of three and gluons in the primordial Universe. But where did these elementary particles, the quarks and gluons, which have no known internal structure, come from?


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No one has yet answered this question: quarks and gluons have no identified origin. If they were born, their progenitors remain nameless. Since we now know that the Universe is not static, that it has had and continues to have a history, we tend to believe that this history inevitably had a beginning. But are we right?

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Strictly speaking, the Big Bang designates the very dense and hot epoch of the Universe But in general it is used with a very different meaning: to denote the original explosion that is believed to have created everything that exists, in other words the time zero marking the simultaneous and sudden appearance of space, time, matter, and energy. The inflationary theory proposes that after the Big Bang, a condition known as a false vacuum created a repulsive force that caused an incredibly rapid expansion, much faster than the ordinary expansion observed today.

Since this expansion is faster than the speed of light, areas of inflation would form bubbles that would be completely isolated from each other. This artwork could also represent the creation of separate universes as fluctuations. In theory, this is not a misinterpretation. Delving ever further into the past of the Universe, we discover that the galaxies move nearer to each other and, if the equations of general relativity are to be believed, that the Universe shrinks to a point, ie, to zero volume. In other words, if we run the clock backwards, calculations show that So what prevents us from likening this initial singularity to the effective origin of the Universe?

On the face of it nothing, until we look a little closer. While our way of speaking of the Big Bang has scarcely changed since , the year it was christened and started to be popularized, many things have since happened in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology, to the point that there is a need to change our way of viewing the Big Bang and how we speak about it. What have we understood that is new? In the s, the description of the Universe was rooted exclusively in the equations of general relativity, which, as we have seen, describe the effects of gravity.

Yet when we run time backwards, the Universe shrinks and so matter ends up in very special physical conditions that general relativity alone is unable to describe, because forces other than gravity come into play. When temperature and density become extremely high, the behavior of particles of matter is determined by the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force. The electromagnetic force ensures the cohesion of atoms and molecules and governs all chemical reactions as well as optical phenomena.

The weak nuclear interaction is notably responsible for beta radioactivity, by which a neutron disintegrates into a proton and an electron, with simultaneous emission of an antineutrino.

The Measurements Of The Expansion Of The Universe Don't Add Up

And the strong nuclear force holds protons and neutrons together within atomic nuclei. General relativity takes none of these three forces into account, so physicists have understood that it alone cannot describe the first instants of the Universe.

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Its equations break down when the hugely energetic particles present in the Universe interact with forces other than gravity. To peer into and speak of the conditions of the primordial Universe, physicists must enter what is called the Planck Epoch named after the German theoretical physicist Max Planck , which covers the first 5. This happened So we are unable to rerun the history of the Universe all the way back to its origin, if origin there was.

We have reached the limit of applicability of our current concepts of physics. Beyond this point, our physics is no longer valid. How then can we come up with a better, and above all complete, description of the ultra-hot and ultra-dense phase that is the primordial Universe? Theoreticians have posited a whole range of hypotheses: space-time has more than four dimensions six additional space dimensions, in fact ; on a minuscule scale space-time is discontinuous rather than smooth, ie, it comprises small grains; space-time is theoretically derivable or deducible from something more fundamental, which is not space-time.

Everything happens as if these theories abolish, or at least sideline, the origin of the Universe. In any case, no theory gives substance to the idea of a creation from nothing, so we are forced to review our way of thinking about the Big Bang. In such a case, the Big Bang can no longer be conflated with the origin of the Universe.

The question therefore remains open. No one is in a position to demonstrate scientifically that the Universe did or did not have an origin. If origin there was, which science has yet to apprehend, the Universe emerged from nothingness, an emergence no doubt indescribable because to explain how nothingness ceased to be nothingness, we have to ascribe to it properties that, by their very existence, distance it and distinguish it from itself. If, on the other hand, the Universe had no origin, nothingness never existed—something was always there—in which case the question of the origin of the Universe was just an old problem ill-posed.

Home About Medicographia Past issues Contact. Back to summary Download this issue. The Universe has a history, but did it ever have a beginning? This publication is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Servier. We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you are happy with it.

She has taught astronomy courses for students of all ages, from grammar school through college, and has worked in the planetarium field since Touch the Universe is a unique and innovative astronomy book that will help visually impaired people "see" the wonders of our universe.

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A Touch of Magic: A Nocturne Falls Universe Collection

Using a combination of Braille and large-print captions that face 14 pages of brilliant Hubble Space Telescope photos, it is embossed with shapes that represent various astronomical objects such as stars, gas clouds, and jets of matter streaming into space. As the author puts it, "A visually impaired person can still touch and smell a flower, or a tree, or an animal, but he or she could only imagine what an astronomical object is like The National Academies Press and the Transportation Research Board have partnered with Copyright Clearance Center to offer a variety of options for reusing our content.

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The Microsoft Research team has made it simple to manipulate data on a touch surface or desktop. The team plans to bring this magic to mobile devices soon. Microsoft has also released an API to allow developers to build custom tours and lessons.


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I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the nebula of the Milky Way Galaxy, and admittedly it was beautiful. The lessons can be as simple as a fly by of every planet in our solar system, or as complicated as analyzing photographs of the deepest known space objects.