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Why “The Big Bang” Is a Terrible Name

Have a discussion about the origins of the Universe and, ere long, someone will inevitably use the term “the Big Bang” to describe the initial moment of expansion of everything that was to everything that is. But in reality “Big Bang” isn’t a very good term since “big” implies size (and when it occurred space didn’t technically exist yet) and there was no “bang.” In fact the name wasn’t ever even meant to be an official moniker, but once it was used (somewhat derisively) by British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle in a radio broadcast in 1949, it stuck.

Unfortunately it’s just so darn catchy.

This excellent video from minutephysics goes a bit more into depth as to why the name is inaccurate — even though we’ll likely continue using it for quite some time. (Thanks to Sir Hoyle.)

And you have to admit, a television show called “The Everywhere Stretch Theory” would never have caught on. Bazinga!

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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  • Dima R August 31, 2013, 2:52 AM

    It’s all very simple :-) Two other Universes had a baby named Singularity, and in no time it started growing and developing like everything else…

    • Junovidor August 31, 2013, 12:52 PM

      A collision between TWO universes – that’s quite an assumption! Why not between 100 or 1000 universes for that matter? Like if the Universe we all are a part of with everything else was not big enough, hence the need for a second universe so everything makes sense after all.

      • SteveZodiacxl9 August 31, 2013, 1:53 PM

        You missed the point about the “bang” thing Dima was referring to.

  • briansheen August 31, 2013, 8:01 AM

    Hoyle, Gold & Bondi gave a series of Steady State lectures on the wireless in the mid 1950’s. Following each I would talk over the phone to one of my school mates about the details and implications of what we had just heard. Hoyle’s Book “Frontiers of astronomy” published1955 is a landmark text.
    Roseland Observatory.

  • bdlaacmm August 31, 2013, 11:52 AM

    Mostly a decent video, but it wildly misrepresents Lemaitre’s views on God’s role in what we now call the Big Bang. In 1951, when Pope Pius XII referred to Lemaitre’s work as a proof for Catholic doctrine, Lemaitre vigorously denied any such thing, and actually got the pope to stop saying so. Lemaitre, a devout Catholic of great faith, was also a champion of the strict separation of religion and science.

    Bottom line: this video’s suggestion that Lemaitre would have been somehow satisfied with explaining why the Big Bang (sorry, Everywhere Stretch) occurred with a simple “God made it so” is a complete falsehood.

    • Torbjörn Larsson August 31, 2013, 7:00 PM

      Sigh! Strident accommodationists* are so predictable.

      Maybe the video misrepresents Lemaitrês views, but not in the way you somehow conjure up from the disparate points that Lemaitrê didn’t like expropriation of science by religion and that they video speculated in Lemaitrês private reasons to combine cosmology with theology (astronomer within a church).

      So the proposed misrepresentation, which we de facto know nothing about, is a strawman of your own imagination. (No accommodationist seem able to resist building a strawman effigy to religion.) In your own words, “a complete falsehood”.

      * My own misrepresentation perhaps, but as we started with speculation why not throw in another likelihood which is unsubstantiated for the individual event?

      • bdlaacmm September 1, 2013, 2:38 PM

        Sorry, Torbjorn, but you’ve got it entirely backwards. The strawman here was raised by the creators of this video, at 4 minutes, 17 seconds in. I quote: “For Georges Lemaitre, this might be where God finally comes into the picture, to explain the things science can’t.” This well-worn canard is the so-called “God of the Gaps”, a 100% made-up construct of religion bashers everywhere. (Yes, you can always point to some naïve rube out there who expresses himself this way – but come on now, we’re discussing Lemaitre here, not some pious simpleton.) The GotG is a strawman, easily ridiculed because educated people don’t think that way. The reality is quite the reverse. The more we discover about the universe, by whatever means at hand (to include science, which was, by the way, invented by Christianity), the more opportunity there is to appreciate the Creator. It is not for nothing that the motto of Vermont’s Springfield Telescope Makers (sponsors of the Stellafane convention) is “The Heavens declare the Glory of God”.

      • bdlaacmm September 1, 2013, 6:15 PM

        Oh, and by the way, I have no idea what an “accommodationist” is – never heard the term before.

  • Boone_1781 August 31, 2013, 12:46 PM

    “[Regarding Hoyle’s BBC programs] Lord Simon turned to Sydney Goldstein,
    then professor of applied mathematics at Manchester, for an expert
    opinion. Goldstein, who had been a fellow of St. John’s College,
    responded by saying it all depended what programming the corporation
    wanted. “If they want entertainment, the lectures are fine. If they want
    science they are not fine. The best astronomers would not agree with
    many of his conclusions. Hoyle has not the humility of a good scientist.”

    Conflict in the Cosmos, Fred Hoyle’s Life in Science – Simon Mitton (2005)

  • Torbjörn Larsson August 31, 2013, 6:45 PM

    Good subject!

    But this is why I don’t like minutephysics. It has a lot of thought provoking, nifty takes on science, but it gets some parts wrong and it mangles other parts.

    – Obviously wrong here is the idea that the universe expansion has been driven by curvature (or pressure) potential. Maybe it has, but not in the eras we know of. During inflation expansion was driven by the vacuum energy of the inflaton, during the following radiation dominated era by radiation (well, duh!), during the matter dominated era by matter (more duhs) and now during the dark energy dominated era once again by the vacuum energy.

    – Mangled is the idea that time had to start just before inflation. Since inflation is past-time-like incomplete we don’t know that. Here is where I prefer Starts With A Bang from a cosmologist:

    “If the Universe was filled with matter (orange) or radiation (blue), as shown above, there must be a point at which these infinite temperatures and densities are reached, and thus, a singularity. But in the case of inflation (yellow), everything changes. First off, we don’t necessarily have a singularity, and we definitely don’t have one at what we traditionally think of as “the moment of the Big Bang.” Instead, we have what’s known as a past-timelike-incomplete spacetime.

    In other words, we not only don’t know whether there was a singularity at some point in the very distant, pre-inflation past, or whether inflation was truly eternal, we don’t even know whether inflation occurred for less than a yoctosecond or more than the present age of the (post-Big Bang) Universe!”

    [Links and bolds removed, his italics]

    As far as I know, in inflation physics eternal inflation is the ground state (and now everything else is pretty much eliminated by Planck), in which quantum fluctuations in the inflaton field makes part of spacetime for ever stuck in the inflation gradient.

    It could have been stuck there ‘forever’ without having to start out from Planck energies. (Maybe randomly put sufficiently high up the inflaton potential by pair creation in the quantum void. Anthropics, I know.)

    So you need to invoke new physics to run up against the inherent Planck scale singularity of an inflation gradient in practice.

    – It seems to me very few today thinks a cycling universe has physical relevance.

    Again, maybe it isn’t impossible. But why go there?

  • Brent Simmons August 31, 2013, 8:32 PM

    Clearly we should have gone with Calving and Hobbes’ suggestion: Horrendous Space Kablooie.

  • disqus_HgXYvVovmd September 1, 2013, 12:17 AM

    one thing I do not understand about this “big bang”. it does not account for the many different directions galaxy’s seem to be headed in. not only that but the last time I saw a big blast of any type everything went in opposite directions away from the epicenter of the blast. with every thing accelerating away from the epicenter, all matter would not be colliding together to form new universes. the idea that this bang went in one direction from the point on origin defies physics.

    • Olaf2 September 1, 2013, 9:08 PM

      First the big bang is not an explosion.

      Second local gravitational forces could be bigger than the expanding force.

      • Anas U September 2, 2013, 6:34 AM

        Right! Just think about why our universe is NOT round.

  • David Krauss September 1, 2013, 8:06 AM

    Nice video, but the “everywhere stretch” is ongoing and doesn’t look likely to stop.

    Isn’t the accepted term “cosmic inflation” quite apt enough? Inflation is when you give an object (like a balloon) volume without giving it significant “substance.”

    The illustration they keep referring to seems to be a diagram of a finite universe, which stretches then flattens out. Doesn’t seem quite apt. But they make up for it with the infinite zoom-in.

  • Prism2Spectrum September 1, 2013, 3:38 PM

    No “singularity”? Therefore, no “place” of origin? ( But there was an “ORIGIN”. ) This leaves a singular mystery: From whence unfolded the Spacetime fabric? From what bolt, did dimensions of Universe unroll? How were its folds measured, patterned and formed: galaxy-Systems woven, star-worlds sewn? What “Physics” explains a sudden creation so “staggering” in rapidity of appearance and expansion – “moment” incomprehensible, vastness unfathomable!

    Sudden Universe appearance by “The Everywhere STRETCH” of space? ( Can’t quite wrap my mind around that! )

    There is, according to author, a blank-area, which leave cosmologists / astrophysicists in the dark – “the PART of the everywhere stretch where we don’t know what we are talking about”? ( If only other branches of science would admit as much, when the scientists of those fields, venture to tread into uncertain waters, beyond shores of what is empirically KNOWN. )

    Good to recognize, that the INSTANT BEFORE The Universe came into existence, is a BLANK SPACE that needs filling: Science has limitations, and the ultimate questions, it CANNOT definitively answer. So, the open Science-book has no claim, an alternate Book to close. One hardly known, which declares answer to questions beyond the scope of what material Science can discover. And opens window to a missing dimension, revealed. Yet, consistently in agreement with Science KNOWN. How much of what HAS BEEN discovered by Science, still remains partly submerged, in depths of mystery unfathomed?)

    ____________ PLANCK – CNES ( French website ):

    “ESA’s Planck satellite has delivered its first all-sky image of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) [ early 2013? ], bringing with it NEW CHALLENGES about our understanding of the ORIGINS and evolution of the cosmos. The image has provided THE MOST PRECISE PICTURE of the early Universe so far.”

    “For the most part, the data agree extremely well with the ‘standard model of cosmology’ ”

    “At the same time, the extraordinary quality of the Planck data reveals the presence of subtle anomalies in the CMB pattern THAT MIGHT CHALLENGE THE VERY FOUNDATIONS OF COSMOLOGY. The most serious anomaly is a deficit in the signal at large angular scales on the sky [?], which is about ten per cent weaker than the standard model would like it to be. Other anomalous traits that had been hinted at in the past – a significant discrepancy of the CMB signal as observed in the two opposite hemispheres of the sky and an abnormally large ‘cold spot’ [?]- are confirmed with high confidence. Planck’s new image of the CMB suggests that SOME ASPECTS OF THE STANDARD MODEL OF COSMOLOGY MAY NEED A RETHINK, raising the possibility that the FABRIC of the cosmos, on the largest scales of the observable Universe, might be more complex than we think.”

    http://smsc.cnes.fr/PLANCK/GP_actualites.htm _________________________________________________________

    _____________ NATURE (IWJS): “Planck Telescope Peers into Promordial Universe” (21 March 2013)

    According to this article, the Universe had a “birth” – a BEGINNING. ( I guess some speculate it had earlier gestation period. ) Science indicates: Cosmic-Time began, but the “when” before it unwound, could be termed – Eternity. ( The timeless existence from which it came. )

    “The results strongly support the idea that in the seconds [ unable to translate tiny TIME-FRACTION given ] …THE UNIVERSE EXPANDED AT A STAGGERING RATE – a process dubbed inflation. Inflation would explain why the Universe is so big, and why we cannot detect any curvature in the fabric of space…”

    “Planck also confirmed some oddities earlier picked up by the WMAP. The simplest models of inflation predict that fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background [ ‘residual glow of the Big Bang’ ] SHOULD LOOK THE SAME ALL OVER THE SKY. But the WMAP found, and PLANCK HAS NOW CONFIRMED, an ASYMMETRY between opposite hemispheres of the sky, as well as a ‘cold spot’ [?] that covers a large area.”

    This opposed, to what the “standard model” would disclose?

    “The ASYMMETRY ‘DEFINES A PREFERRED DIRECTION IN SPACE, which is an extremely strange result’ [ only on page of one book ], says [ ‘George Efstathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, UK’ ]. This rules out some models of inflation, but does not undermine the idea itself, he adds. It does, however, raise tantalizing hints that there may yet be NEW PHYSICS to be discovered in Planck’s data.”

    Or, alternatively, something UNDISCOVERABLE – concealed BEYOND finite perimeters of “Physics”. ( Perhaps, tantalizing hint, through “echoes of inflation”, faintly glimpsed. ).

    http://www.nature.com/news/planck-telescope-peers-into-primordial-universe-1.12658

    (emphasis mine throughout)

  • bugzzz September 1, 2013, 4:30 PM

    This won’t please the purists, but based on the video, I don’t see the Big Bang terminology as successfully dethroned. Not until you come up with an equally succinct phrase. By science’s own admission we don’t know what happened before the the universe cooled sufficiently to see backward. Therefore the Big Bang concept is neither disproven or proven. It’s the dominant model until someone does better. Therefore I’m still calling it the Big Bang. Besides, how is a massive expansion of space not a violent “bang”-like event?

  • Black Wolf Standing September 1, 2013, 10:46 PM

    When I was eight years old, I described space/time to my mom remarkably similar to the video. When you look at the words Big Bang, they are indeed accurate. Just not the way as described. Big describes not the physical size of the event, but rather the nature of the event. Bang does not describe the energy release or sound of the event, but rather the suddenness of the event.

    So, Big Bang is literally an important sudden happening.

  • ecb September 1, 2013, 11:57 PM

    What was there to collide with because if there was a big bang what started it if you say molecular atoms then where did they come from there has to be a starting point so how did it just come to be

  • AmySoldier September 4, 2013, 8:38 AM

    I infer the word Big is an adjective describing the noun Bang and not describing some idea of space. And the Cosmic Background Radiation is an “echo” of the initial “Bang.” Misnomer or not, writing for myself I say Big Bang is an apt, and quite trite phrase to give to the concept. #rebel

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