Is the universe a Bubble?

The concept of space going on forever is a mind-boggling one, not least because our brains aren’t designed to cope with concepts such as infinity. But perhaps, because it’s forever expanding, it only appears to be infinite? This is one theory that physicists and planetary experts have put forward.

The universe is around 13.8 to 14 billion years old, but in actuality we can see for 46 million light years in all directions because of its constant expansion. So if you were to stop time, and therefore stop the expansion, the universe would then have a reachable end point or edge. One way to picture this concept is to think of a balloon, as teacher, presenter and planetary scientist Dr Sheila Kanani explains. Picture yourself inside this balloon, living on its interior surface in a two-dimensional space. The balloon is the universe, and as more air is blown into it, you would see the space or surface area of the universe expanding and every point on its surface getting further and further away from one other.

This poses a further question: what will happen to our universe when this expansion stops? Many theoretical physicists believe that the universe could come to an end somewhere between 2.8 and 22 billion years from now, as described in New Scientist – so we probably won’t be around to find out what happens. The idea of a ‘Big Crunch’, explained on the HowStuffWorks website, is one of several possible fates awaiting our universe. In reversal of the Big Bang, a Big Crunch may cause matter and space-time to collapse in on themselves, creating a singularity – an infinitely dense point similar to that from which the universe came into being in the first place.

It’s been suggested that this idea ties into the likely existence of multiverses, or multiple universes. Perhaps our own universe will expand and then contract into a big crunch, and this will cause a new Big Bang and a new universe will be created. Imagine a glass of fizzy water – there’s nothing in the water except for the water, but suddenly a bubble appears. Equally as suddenly the bubble pops, and more and more bubbles in the water appear and do the same: each of the bubbles is created from a bang and disappears after a crunch. So maybe in space our universe and other universes aren’t created from and expanding into nothing, and perhaps there’s something else present that universes are created in, and we simply haven’t learned what that is yet. Is your head spinning?

These concepts are very difficult for us to get to grips with – which is why many scientists talk about balloons and fizzy water to help us understand them. And as soon as we answer one question it leads to many more that we have yet to answer – a little bit like those bubbles in that water. The universe may go on and on and on, but hopefully one day our questions about it won’t.

The next time someone says you’re living in a bubble, remind them that we all are.

A pair of NASA space probes have detected an artificial bubble around Earth that forms when radio communications from the ground interact with high-energy radiation particles in space, the agency announced this week. The bubble forms a protective barrier around Earth, shielding the planet from potentially dangerous space weather, like solar flares and other ejections from the sun.

Earth already has its own protective bubble, a magnetosphere stretched by powerful solar winds. The artificial bubble that NASA found is an accident, an unintended result of the interplay between human technology and nature. When humans want to communicate with submarines near the surface of the ocean, they use a type of radio communication known as very low frequency waves, or VLF, transmitted from stations on the ground. Some of the waves can stretch all the way out into Earth’s atmosphere and beyond, where they affect the movement of the radiation particles bouncing around in the region. Sometimes, the interaction between VLF and these particles creates a barrier that can be seen by spacecraft orbiting the planet.

The bubble discovery comes from a robotic mission launched in 2012 to study the Van Allen radiation belts, two donut-shaped rings of charged particles that surround the Earth, held in place by the planet’s magnetic field. The results are described in a recent study in the journal Space Science Reviews.

Scientists say the edge of the outer edge of artificial bubble lines up almost exactly with the inner edge of the Van Allen belts, which suggests VLF waves can push radiation particles away. According to satellite data, the inner edge of the belts is much further from Earth now than it was in the 1960s, when humans sent fewer VLF transmissions. Scientists suspect that VLF wasn’t around, the radiation belts would hover closer to Earth.

The researchers believe the bubble could help protect Earth from solar flares, which release huge amounts of energy, or coronal mass ejections that discharge hot material called plasma. Both events send can radiation particles into Earth’s atmosphere, which could disrupt radio waves and overload electrical power grids.

The bubble also extends the reach of human influence on this tiny dot in the universe. Technology has, in a very short time, left a mark on the landscape of the Earth in countless ways, diverting whole rivers, razing forests for farmland, and pumping enough gases into the atmosphere to alter the global climate. In the early 1960s, the U.S. military tried to build an artificial bubble of its own, and launched billions of whisker-thin copper wires into orbit. Scientists hoped the material would coalesce into a ring around the Earth that would protect the nation’s communications systems—crucial in the fight against the Soviets—from solar storms. It didn’t work, though. The key, it appears, is a little help from the universe itself.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

No comments to show.