Our Awesome Universe Ambassador College Research Department
The grandeur and splendor of the universe has always challenged the mind of man. It taunts him with the unknown. Where did it all come from? Why does it exist? Is there any purpose behind it? Is our existence the result of intelligence or are we mere cosmic orphans adrift on the ocean of time and space? Many do not know. Yet answers are available.
WHEN MAN looks up to the starry heavens on a clear night, somehow he innately senses that the universe is no accident. But most of us go to and fro over this earth, busy with our little affairs, serenely indifferent to the real significance of the vastness of time and space. We take little note of the majestic canopy of stars stretched over our tiny planet. Seldom do we ponder such questions as: What is the universe? Where did it all come from? When did it begin? Who made it? Is planet earth unique in the universe? Is man alone in the universe? Or do alien minds on a distant planet plumb the night pondering the same questions? Over the past few decades, the efforts of science have made available to mankind an impressive reservoir of information about the universe. Never has man known more about the heavens, yet less about why he exists. This booklet presents, in brief, a panorama of both "what" and "why," bringing into focus meaning that has somehow eluded humanity since the dawn of civilization.
A Mind-Stretching Perspective
Before daring to step into the arena of origins one should first appreciate the immensity of space and the awesome power of its elements. The first and most obvious disadvantage confronting any seeker-of-truth is the vastness of scale. For sheer size alone the universe is impossible to conceptualize. Despite the apparent simplicity of a starry night, the universe is a master at hiding the evidence. One science writer provided the following description:
Even on this vastly reduced scale the size and immensity of the universe is truly "mind boggling."
The Awesome Power of the Sun
We spend our lives on a natural Spaceship Earth a massive sphere approximately 8000 miles in diameter. Although it seems "suspended in space," the earth weighs in at six thousand million, million, million tons! Dominating our skies is that life-giving orb we know as the sun. It is a blazing nuclear furnace over 100 times the diameter of the earth - comprised of sufficient matter to make up another 300,000 planets like our own.
But only a tiny fraction (about one two billionth) of this two thousand million, million, million, million ton orb's energy falls on the earth. But, even considering this, the solar energy penetrating to the earth's surface exceeds the entire annual energy consumption of all the world's industries by more than 30,000 times!1 Our sun, for aU its seemingly massive size, is itself surrounded by a solar system that extends outward into space for a staggering 3,700 million miles. Within this vast area are nine planets, 32 moons, thousands of asteroids, millions of comets, and innumerable dust particles and molecules. Even so, our solar system is but a tiny fleck of cosmic driftwood in an infinitesimal corner of the universe.
Our Awesome Universe
Compared to the entire stellar panorama, our sun and its solar family of planets are but inconspicuous pin-pricks of light lost in a flowing sea of stars we call the Milky Way. The dimensions of this vast starry cluster defy comprehension -several thousand million million miles! It rotates in space like a giant pinwheel with star-studded arms spiraling out from its center. Somewhere along one of these galactic "extremities" is our insignificant sun and its nine tiny planets. Yet even our gargantuan galaxy (including thousands of millions of stars) is virtually lost in the total population of space. Far beyond our Milky Way, the universe abounds with additional thousands of millions of galaxies. Taking an estimate of the grand total of all the stars in the known visible universe, we arrive at the staggering sum of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or more. There is also the very real possibility that the universe extends far beyond the limits of present astronomical observation. No matter how we describe the universe, it is absolutely awesome. Man has always wondered if all this could be accidental. Did our universe simply "come into being" sometime in the distant past? Or have all the billions of stars and dramatic forces that govern them always been here? And is there a fundamental reason why the universe exists?
Throughout man's recorded history, scholars have continually pondered the meaning of the cosmos, trying to discover answers to the age-old questions: Where did everything come from, and what was its meaning? During the time of Christ, Diodorus of Sicily related how many thinkers of his day considered the universe to be eternal and self-existent with no definite beginnings. In Plato's day the universe was thought to have resulted from purely natural happenstance. After the classical Greek period, little scholarly thought was given to the matter of beginnings until about the 18th century. At that time Immanuel Kant formulated a hypothesis for the origin of the solar system. Kant's idea was later developed by the French astronomer LaPlace and became popularly known as the Nebular Hypothesis. Simply stated, it postulated that our sun and its family of planets condensed out of a cloud of gas. The concept remained in vogue until the 19th century when it foundered on the rocks of advancing astronomical knowledge. In more recent times, sophisticated instrumentation has enabled scientists to become much more aware of the immensity of space. As a result, theories merely for the origin of our tiny solar system have faded from the limelight of scientific speculation in favor of ideas concerning the origin of the entire universe.
Serious scientific thinking on the origin of the universe began in the late 1920s. Astronomers then discovered that the cosmos was apparently rapidly expanding, in analogy like a giant inflatable rubber balloon. This led to the formulation of the "big-bang" theory. Today it is the most generally accepted model for the origin of the present universe. Credited primarily to the late Russian-born astrophysicist, George Gamow, the big-bang theory stipulates that the universe had its beginning in a massive primordial cloud about 10,000 million years ago. In this cloud was an extremely hot, dense "soup" of the fundamental particles that now make up all the matter we observe in space. As originally conceived by Gamow, there was a giant explosion that formed within minutes all the elements of the universe. Since that time all the matter now condensed into stars, planets, etc., has been rushing outward into space in a giant expansion. However, as time went on it became apparent that the initial big-bang could not totally account for the existence of many of the heavier elements found in the universe. In addition, little can or has been said concerning what initial force or energy was responsible for producing the super-hot temperatures and densities found in the initial "soup" of fundamental particles. CuiTent cosmological thinking now holds that the chemical elements were produced by nuclear reactions that are occurring in the interiors of most stars. But support for this theory primarily rests on limited earthbound laboratory observation and theoretical calculation not on actual observation. There remains some uncertainty of what actually takes place deep inside stellar intenors. An alternate to the big bang, although now more or less fallen from favor, is the steady-state theory. Steady-state proponents, as did many Greek thinkers centuries earlier, suggest that we are living in an eternal, never-ending universe that has always been here and always will be. There is no need for an initial creation process because, somehow, new matter bas continually been created in order to maintain a balanced, stable universe. Although considered to be a very attractive answer by many scientists for a number of years, steady-state thinking eventually ran into some awkward difficulties. First of all, science has no observational evidence for new matter coming into existence naturally in space, although in the laboratory it has been possible to change energy into minute atomic particles in high-speed particle accelerators. Secondly, it is a well-established observational fact that the universe is undergoing an irreversible energy "rundown." Eventually it will figuratively "run out of gas." This is why steady-state thinking has speculated that new matter (and thus new sources of energy) are somehow slowly, constantly coming into existence. A third concept bas been suggested that solves some of the gaps in the big-bang theory. Known as the oscillating-universe theory, it incorporates major aspects of both the big-bang and steady state theories. This concept suggests, like the steady-state theory, that the universe has always been here. But throughout time all the matter in space has alternately collapsed inward to form the giant cloud of the "big-bang" theory, only to explode again and begin rushing outward. In this way the universe has eternally oscillated between expansion and contraction. At present we are merely in one of the expansions.
Ultimate Origins Missing
And so, scientists continue to look for solutions. All of the great observatories are busy trying to determine which model, steady state, big bang, or a synthesis of the two, best fits the rapidly growing body of astronomical knowledge. Yet in all of it, most scientists recognize that they are not actually addressing the really important question of where the universe came from originally. All current investigation is aimed at establishing what happened once all the laws, matter, space, time and energy were already in existence. As the late astronomer Harlow Shapley said a few years ago:
Before his conclusion, though, he reflected:
Robert Jastrow, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, adds:
James A. Coleman, professor of science and popular science writer, says:
Fred Hoyle even feels that asking such questions as "Where did matter come from?" is meaningless. Why is there gravitation? Why do electric fields exist? Why is the universe?
But is it really meaningless for an astronomer to ask why? Harlow Shapley made this pointed observation:
Lincoln Barnett, writer of science books for the layman, tells us:
Another author, Dean W. Wooldridge, is a little more emphatic.
Dr. Jesse L. Greenstein, astrophysicist at California Institute of Technology, said in rega1d to the origin of the universe: "It is a terrible mystery how matter comes out of nothing. Could it have been something outside science? We try to stay out of philosophy and theology, but sometimes we are forced to think in bigger terms, to go back to something outside science."
The Missing Key
If our knowledge of the universe and our place in it is to have a comprehensive foundation, we must begin to recognize that science does not provide all the answers. What it does provide is of course important. But no matter bow noble and precise the efforts of science may indeed be, there is a limit to how far science can go. Science is physical. Any conclusions drawn on scientific investigations can also only be physical. That is not to demean science. But if man expects to gain a knowledge of ultimate purposes, he must recognize as do many scientists the absolute need of additional knowledge from an outside source. There are many important issues in man's real world that are based on criteria beyond the physical and scientific world. Any truly educated man needs to avail himself of the evidence of this intrinsic fact. That is why man by science alone is unable to totally ascertain how the universe came into being. We humans, no matter how brilliant, cannot know the whole answer by science alone. No man was on the scene when the universe began. And we can't return to that time. Therefore, if our knowledge of beginnings is to have comprehensive meaning, it must not disregard the evidence of divine REVELATION. The biblical record describes a Personage who claims to have answers of how to make the story complete. He says He is the Creator of human beings, the Originator of the universe. He claims power to intervene in the affairs of men and nations. In Genesis 1:1 we are told by revelation "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This is frankly the only answer available that rests on authority. The solutions of science offer only ignorance of ultimate origins. God's Word is the only way to complete the picture. The Patriarch Job understood this:
Again, through the Prophet Isaiah, God reveals Himself as the supreme architect of the universe.
This same God promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17 that his seed would be "as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore." Clearly God was not speaking of a small, localized universe consisting of only a few thousand stars. God's Word, then, has the foundation - the beginning -of why the universe is here and where it came from. David tells us that the existence of the universe demonstrates God:
The Bible is full of statements declaring emphatically that God created the universe; that He made man, our earth and the eco-systems around us. The truth of this awesome universe's true origin only comes clear to the man with the willingness to consider biblical revelation, and the courage to place himself in harmony with the laws of the Creator God.
1. Peter Millman. This Universe of Space (Cambridge. Ma..1962). pp. 15-16.
2. Fred Hoyle, Astronomy (Garden City, New York, 1962), p.232.
4. Sol Tax. ed., The Evolution of Life: Evolution After Darwin, Vol. I (Chicago, 1960), p. 33.
5. Robert Jastrow, Red Giants and White Dwarfs (New York, 1967), p. 57.
6. James A. Coleman, Modern Theories of the Universe (New York, 1963), p. 197.
7. Fred Hoyle, Frontiers of Astronomy (New York, 1955), p.342.
8. Harlow Shapley, Beyond the Observatory (New York, 1967) , p. 30.
9. Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein (New York, 1948), p. 105.
10. Dean Wooldridge, The Machinery of Life (New York, 1966), p. 4.
11. Los Angeles Times, July 30, 1 961, Vol. LXXX, Section E. pp. 11, 15.
Multiple and Variable Stars
Another fortunate fact about our solar system is that it has but one star. Most of the stars are found in multiple star groups of two's, threes, fours and more. The proportion of strus that are "multiples" is surprisingly high. Various sources estimate that as many as three quarters of all the stars in the universe are multiple systems. We don't usually appreciate this fact when we look up into the heavens, because of the close proximity of multiples to one another. Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to our sun, is actually a system of three stars. The two main stars of the trio are similar to our sun; one slightly larger and more luminous, the other cooler and smaller. Both are orbited by a tiny red dwarf star called Proxima Centauri. Sirus A, the brightest star in the sky, is another good example. It is nearly twice as hot as our sun and roughly 1Y2 times its diameter. Its companion, Sirius B, is a faint, white dwarf star only one ten thousandth as bright as its companion, Sirius A. Some double stars, or binaries, are so close that their mutual attraction causes huge eruptions of tidal gas to pass back and forth between the two stars. Other binaries appear to vary in brightness because they periodically eclipse one another. Another class of variable stars known as Cepheids have been observed to undergo periodic fluctuations in their brightness without the help of an eclipsing partner. Some of these quick-blinking stellar lighthouses have flare-up intervals of only a few hours duration. These variations are thought to be produced by a "panting" action due to expansion and contraction of the star's skin.
While stars may vary radically in size and the amount of light they radiate, they all follow similar patterns of aging and development. All of them are essentially giant nuclear furnaces that generate energy by converting hydrogen into helium by the same basic process used in the hydrogen bomb. In the course of this hydrogen helium conversion process, matter is transformed into energy according to Einstein's well-known equation E = MC!. This accounts for the stupendous light and heat radiated by all stars. But like any energy source, stars have only a limited amount of fuel. As it burns, the star is continually depleting its stock of hydrogen and at the same time building up a deposit of helium "ash." Eventually these "wastes" grow Lo the point where the internal forces of the star are thrown out of balance. The star is then rudely jolted out of its previously tranquil state and rapidly balloons in size as the rate of its fuel consumption dramatically increases. At this point a normal star like our sun would become what is termed a "red giant." More massive stars would end up in the "supergiant" category.
A Perspective of Giants
Some of these abnormal stars are immense. For example, Epsilon Aurigae, the largest known star so far observed in the universe, has a diameter approximately 2000 times that of the sun. This red colossus, were it to replace our sun at the center of the solar system, would extend out, past the orbit of Saturn! It has an unbelievable diameter of 2,500 million miles. Antares, another familiar super giant, has a diameter "only" 450 times that of the sun. Compared to Epsilon Aurigae, it is "junior" sized. But placed in the center of our solar system it would nevertheless consume the orbit of Mars. Yet for all their size, the red giants are in reality a lot of hot air literally! Under the right circumstances one can actually "see through" them, because their constituency is so thin. Astronomers in one case have actually been able to observe another star through the transparent layers of one of these tenuous red giants. Their matter is so rarefied that it is comparable to the best vacuum man can produce in the laboratory.
Pricking the Balloon
A red giant in its super-bloated state can't exist that way forever. This phase of a star's existence is relatively short compared to the long "normal" phase when it was consuming fuel at a more leisurely pace. As the star's temperature continues to rise because of the pressure exerted by gravitational energy, the helium ash in its core itself becomes fuel in a new but less efficient type of nuclear reaction. The waste products of this new combustion process also provide fuel for yet another "weightier" type of reaction. This chain of events, according to astronomers, eventually leads to the formation of heavier elements such as magnesium, neon, silicon and oxygen. But eventually a point is reached (with the formation of iron) where the elements become too heavy to trigger any further reactions. Consequently, more and more of the nuclear fuel is exhausted until the star finally collapses under the increasing pressure of its internal gravity. At this point scientists believe the following events occur depending on the size of the star. Smaller stars simply contract and die away as they use up their remaining fuel, becoming white dwarfs in the process. When the residue of their fuel is exhausted, they cease their active existence and become burned-out black cinders floating in space. Larger stars (greater than 1.4 times the mass of the sun) share a less placid fate. Instead of meekly flickering out, they die with a roar, producing the spectacular phenomenon called by astronomers a nova. The forces unleashed in this type stellar degeneration are so titanic as to be beyond earth bound comparisons. A nova is in theory brought on by a rapid collapse of the star as the flickering nuclear fires can no longer stand up under dwindling fuel supplies and the crush of gravity. This suddenly produces temperatures that can exceed a thousand million degrees Fahrenheit. This, in turn, detonates a massive thermonuclea1 explosion of gargantuan proportions. It's as if a whole star had been converted into a gigantic hydrogen bomb. In fact, one source estimated the energy released by one such explosion was equivalent to one trillion trillion (British: billion, bil1ion) hydrogen bombs (1 followed by 24 zeros!). Astronomers call the largest of this type of stellar bombast a supernova. One writer described it like this:
A Star Is Born
Out of such a cosmic catastrophe emerge the shattered remnants of the old star, but in a radically altered state. The gravitational forces responsible for the explosion in the first place now hold the remaining stellar material in such a tenacious grip that it is compressed into extremely high densities. Theoretically, if the explosion isn't too violent, the stellar remains become configured as a white dwarf star. White dwarfs are Lilliputians even compared to a medium star like our sun. Most of them are roughly equivalent to the earth in terms of size and diameter, but are stellar heavyweights when it comes to density. Sirius B, a well-known white dwarf, is only twice as big as the earth, yet has approximately the same mass as the sun. In other words, it's about 12,000 times heavier than the earth. On Sirius B, the Empire State Building would be shrunk to the size of a pin and yet have the same weight." On a white dwarf, a pea would weigh more than a truck, or as one author stated, "a ping-pong ball filled with its substance would have the mass of several elephants." And yet for all this compression, the white dwarf is quite spacious when compared to its smaller cousin, the neutron star.
Neutron Stars - Dynamic Bantams
Scientists theorize that if a supernova explosion is particularly violent, the stellar remains will condense even further than the white-dwarf stage to form what has become one of the most fascinating discoveries of modern astronomy the neutron star. By comparison even the white dwarfs are huge. Imagine squeezing all the matter of the sun down into a tiny sphere about 10 miles in diameter and you have the approximate density of a neutron star. Densities are on the order of a thousand million tons per cubic inch. This is equivalent to "all the people in the world compressed into a single raindrop." That ping-pong ball that bad the mass of several elephants on a white dwarf would now "have the mass of a large asteroid such as Juno, a minor planet 118 miles across." Incredible densities like this cannot be achieved unless the atomic structure of the matter involved is fundamentally altered. The gravitational force exerted in a neutron star is so strong that it can theoretically overcome the normal repulsive forces that exist between electrons and protons within the atom." This impaction of atomic particles essentially removes much of the "open space" that formerly existed between the nucleus of the atom and its electrons. Result: superdense matter.
Beacons in the Sky
Up until the late 1960s astronomers had postulated the existence of neutron stars, but never had they found any observational evidence of one in the universe. However, in 1967 and 1968, radio astronomers in Cambridge, England discovered the first of a series of small new celestial objects which they called pulsars- because of a series of strange, and at first baffling radio pulses that they emitted. Subsequent investigation revealed that neutron stars were undoubtedly the source for these pulsars. The clincher was the discovery of a pulsar in the Crab Nebula, the remnants of a supernova explosion first observed by the Chinese in 1054 A.D. Astronomers quickly realized that the radio pulses were due to the rotation of the neutron stars. The frequency of the pulse was found to match the rotational speed. The neutron star in the Crab Nebula, then, was determined to be revolving at the incredible speed of 30 times a second a rotational velocity comparable to that of a modern electric generator! And essentially that's just what the neutron star is a giant, self-propelled stellar dynamo, radiating energy into outer space. The total energy production of the Crab pulsar is something on the order of 10 II watts (1 followed by 31 zeros!). "It would take the radiation from 100,000 stars like the sun to match this power output." The same author pointed out that "in the time interval of a single pulse about 1/30th second -the Crab pulsar pours out as much energy in X rays alone as our sun emits at all wave lengths over a period of 10 seconds." But this stellar dynamo, whirling in the heavens like a super-powered lighthouse, is more than just an ordinary electrical and optical generator. According to astronomers it also hurls out highly charged electrons and protons, in a similar fashion to a man-made atomic particle accelerator.
The Ultimate in Stellar Collapse
Yet even the neutron star pulsar is not the grand-daddy of stellar energy bundles. Theoretically it is possible for the collapse of a star to be so violent, that it passes beyond the neutron stage to become what astronomers call a "black hole." Even the name sounds sinister. But the black hole is everything its name implies. It's so "uptight" with its matter and so dense that nothing but gravity can theoretically escape its clutches once inside its sphere of influence. That's why it is black. No light escapes from its surface. A black hole is thought to be no more than four miles in diameter, or roughly a third as large as neutron stars. You might liken it to a giant celestial vacuum cleaner. It absorbs everything in its vicinity. One author put it this way: "Light shot at it falls in. A particle shot at it falls in [never to reemerge].... In these senses the system is a black hole."11 Although there are indications that black holes do exist, none have definitely been observed to date. Hopefully, if we ever do discover them, it will be from a safe distance or else. What. bizarre and yet magnificent wonders the universe contains!
'Sir James Jeans, The Universe Around Us, 4th revised edition (New York, 1960), pp. 179-180. 'Fred Hoyle, Frontiers of Astronomy (New York, 1955), plate XXIX.' 'Seymour Tilson, "Pulsars May Be Neutron Stars," IEEE Spectrum (February 1970), p. 55. 'Fritz Kahn, Design of the U nwerse ( New York, 1954), pp. 60, 61. 'Roger Penrose, "Black Holes," Scientific American (May 1972), p. 38. 'Malvin A. Ruderman, "Solid Stars," Scientific American (February 1971), p. 24. 'Penrose, p. 38. 'Theoretically, when electrons and protons are driven together neutrons would be formed. Hence the name "neutron star." 'Tilson, p. 49. 'Tilson, p. 50. "Remo Ruffini and John A. Wheeler, "Introducing the Black Hole," Physcs Today (January 1971), p. 34.