Astronomy Without A Telescope – One Crowded Nanosecond

Article written: 11 Sep , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015


Remember how you could once pick up a book about the first three minutes after the Big Bang and be amazed by the level of detail that observation and theory could provide regarding those early moments of the universe. These days the focus is more on what happened between 1×10-36 and 1×10-32 of the first second as we try to marry theory with more detailed observations of the cosmic microwave background.

About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the early universe became cool and diffuse enough for light to move unimpeded, which it proceeded to do – carrying with it information about the ‘surface of last scattering’. Before this time photons were being continually absorbed and re-emitted (i.e. scattered) by the hot dense plasma of the earlier universe – and never really got going anywhere as light rays.

But quite suddenly, the universe got a lot less crowded when it cooled enough for electrons to combine with nuclei to form the first atoms. So this first burst of light, as the universe became suddenly transparent to radiation, contained photons emitted in that fairly singular moment – since the circumstances to enable such a universal burst of energy only happened once.

With the expansion of the universe over a further 13.6 and a bit billion years, lots of these photons probably crashed into something long ago, but enough are still left over to fill the sky with a signature energy burst that might have once been powerful gamma rays but has now been stretched right out into microwave. Nonetheless, it still contains that same ‘surface of last scattering’ information.

Observations tell us that, at a certain level, the cosmic microwave background is remarkably isotropic. This led to the cosmic inflation theory, where we think there was a very early exponential expansion of the microscopic universe at around 1×10-36 of the first second – which explains why everything appears so evenly spread out.

However, a close look at the cosmic microwave background (CMB) does show a tiny bit of lumpiness – or anisotropy – as demonstrated in data collected by the aptly-named Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP).

Really, the most remarkable thing about the CMB is its large scale isotropy and finding some fine grain anisotropies is perhaps not that surprising. However, it is data and it gives theorists something from which to build mathematical models about the contents of the early universe.

The apparent quadrupole moment anomalies in the cosmic microwave background might result from irregularities in the early universe - including density fluctuations, dynamic movement (vorticity) or even gravity waves. However, a degree of uncertainty and 'noise' from foreground light sources is apparent in the data, making firm conclusions difficult to draw. Credit: University of Chicago.

Some theorists speak of CMB quadrupole moment anomalies. The quadrupole idea is essentially an expression of energy density distribution within a spherical volume – which might scatter light up-down or back-forward (or variations from those four ‘polar’ directions). A degree of variable deflection from the surface of last scattering then hints at anisotropies in the spherical volume that represents the early universe.

For example, say it was filled with mini black holes (MBHs)? Scardigli et al (see below) mathematically investigated three scenarios, where just prior to cosmic inflation at 1×10-36 seconds: 1) the tiny primeval universe was filled with a collection of MBHs; 2) the same MBHs immediately evaporated, creating multiple point sources of Hawking radiation; or 3) there were no MBHs, in accordance with conventional theory.

When they ran the math, scenario 1 best fits with WMAP observations of anomalous quadrupole anisotropies. So, hey – why not? A tiny proto-universe filled with mini black holes. It’s another option to test when some higher resolution CMB data comes in from Planck or other future missions to come. And in the meantime, it’s material for an astronomy writer desperate for a story.

Further reading: Scardigli, F., Gruber,C. and Chen (2010) Black hole remnants in the early universe.

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23 Responses

  1. Vanamonde says

    Great article! Now, I think I understand the smoothness problem but it seems to me that inflation as GOT to be the wrong answer and I keep hoping that something better will come and send it to the land of epicycles and Z-rays. I dunno.

    But if the CMB came from a flash 380,000 years after, what information is left from 10-32 second after?

  2. Dave Finton says

    Vanamonde: “But if the CMB came from a flash 380,000 years after, what information is left from 10-32 second after?”

    In a technical sense, all of it is left. Information can be altered, garbled, or have any number of things happen to it, but it can’t be destroyed (I’m speaking from my limited grasp of quantum physics, but that’s basically the gist of it). The trick is unentangling the information we’re receiving now to reconstruct what happened earlier. Kind of like a cosmic forensics problem.

  3. Member

    Yes, agree with DF. The CMB is the earliest observational data we have. The rest of current BB theory is derived from inference and from particle accelerator data which shows what should happen to matter at very high energy densities (Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes provides a good coverage of all this).

    One day we might be able to measure the cosmic neutrino background – which was released in a one-off burst around the first second, but we’ll need some technology advancements to achieve that.

  4. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Anything can happen. Primordial black holes? “Be my bitch, guest!” [/imitation of physicist with delusions of grandeur]

    Though it is noteworthy that the standard cosmology seems safe at the moment. “In terms of this analysis, the pre-inflationary matter era is disfavored compared to the SI [Standard Inflation] model.”

    A layman critique of the paper is that what they hope to explain is the l=2 drop in the CMB spectra. (Mostly, since that could push their model to be better than SI.) Now, that one has been slowly moving from being “an anomaly” to be within bounds, IIRC. So it is one of those features that a priori doesn’t offer much hope for new physics.

    As for the specifics, the Generalized Uncertainty Principle they use to predict black holes is in the same category. Seems it was invented in areas where quantum gravity (QG) likes to live, in a quantized or at least foamy space-time at Planck scales.

    First, setting my personal distaste for QG aside, this now labors under the same observational problem of having seen supernova photons probing these scales. And they found spacetime smooth and Lorentz invariant, as expected. Space-time is after all an emergent property, not a simply quantizable one.

    Second, about that quantization problem. What where they thinking, it is to date only primary commuting observables that obey an uncertainty principle (UP), such as position and momentum. And an odd addition, energy-time, which is classically commuting and no one understands time anyway. 😀 (Actually, I think Noether’s theorem has some bearing why this pair commutes and then can be used in an UP.)

    But yeah, try to extend and so understand UPs better if possible. But why go for indirect observables (space as relative positions) which are already partaking (position) and are known to describe emergent phenomena? Please try again. 😀

    in the meantime, it’s material for an astronomy writer desperate for a story.

    Oh noez, don’t feel that. It was a great article, my only nitpick would be the drop of the SI as still better model. That picture is great!

  5. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Vanamonde: “inflation as GOT to be the wrong answer and I keep hoping that something better will come and send it to the land of epicycles and Z-rays.”

    Nitpick: Disregarding I don’t agree on the “better” (come on, the natural state for inflation is multiverses and you gotta love the implications!), I wouldn’t place it as epicycles.

    Epicycles were as it turned out mathematical devices that predicted the same thing as simpler elliptical orbits. (While keeping the simpler circular orbits preferred at that time as their basic object.) A modern analogy to that is string theory (so far), except that strings may be the simplifying ellipses and point matter field theories the epicycles. 😀

    Inflation, which is simple and distinguishing predictive, may some day be placed in the land of phlogiston and Z-rays (I think, hard to get a description), not epicycles and Maxwell’s cogs & gears (his first EM theory model).

  6. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Oops! In my first comment “commuting” is “non-commuting”. Well, I’m sure IVAN3MAN will come around and catch our glitches anyway. 🙂

  7. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    The CMB is a sort of detector of gravity waves. The m = 0, 1, and 2 modes of the quadrupole moments leave an imprint on the CMB, or in the distribution of radiation and matter at this epoch or sphere of last scatter. The m = 2 mode might be compared to the dipole case where the electric field of an EM wave has two directions of polarization. A linear superposition of the two polarizations is an elliptical polarization. Gravity waves are purely quadrupole, for the dipole moment p = mx’, ‘ = time derivative, can’t exist as it violates momentum conservation. A graviton might be compared to the photon, but as a sort of di-photon, or two photons in a funny quantum state. The two electric field vectors oscillate or rotate in a polarization, but they must do so in an overall m = 2 mode. One can think of the electric fields of the two photons as being 90 degrees from each other, and where the two electric field vectors rotates with some frequency. However, the field vectors also have an amplitude modulation that is resonant with the frequency of the photons, or equivalently the frequency the electric field vectors rotate. This is a possible “lab model” of a gravity wave with HBT photons in nonlinear media or with optical phonons.

    The gravitons are stretched into gravity waves in the early universe. They then perturbed the distribution of matter and radiation and left their footprint on the universe. So gravitons on a scale smaller than the nucleus are stretched out by inflationary expansion into classical gravity waves. These are expanded into waves as long as the horizon scale of the Hubble frame, over 10 billion light years. So we have no prospect for detecting these directly, so their footprint on the CMB is a sort of indirect detector of these B-modes.

    The authors, Scardigli, Gruber, Chen of the paper

    invoke the generalized Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in equations 2 through 7 which are used to employ black hole radiation physics in this problem. This is a manifestation of duality physics in string theory.

    It is likely we may get B-mode detection of early graviton production. When it comes to black holes I am more reserved in my estimation. The difficulty I foresee is with the thermodynamics of the early universe. However, it is possible that there were quantum superpositions of the gravitational field in black hole and graviton states, where the black hole state is something similar to an instanton, or a quantum tunneling state.


  8. jimhenson says

    if all particles are stabilized forms of mini-black holes, then the big-bang is the largest discovered particle accelerator in the universe, but does not explain where matter came from. when we have better stronger picosecond telescopes that actually see farther out in space far beyond the big-bang cmb wall that limits us today to quasar sized galaxy particles, then we will see complete structures that form when superclusters collide. These mega-superclusters will take much longer then 14.6 billion years to have formed and the big-bang will become like the epicycle star sky seen from earth when it was believed that the earth was at the center of the universe.

  9. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    Torbjorn Larsson: String theory does predict noncommuative geometry, and is a part of the reason for this generalized uncertainty principle. As for epicycle analogues, the attempting to work things with point particles is the “epicycle.” The reason is there are vertex functions which do not transform with the field theory. For the scattering of two strings there is a continuous region which has geometric information.

    My sense is these black holes might actually be white holes. If you wind the cosmic story backwards and get black holes, this means in an earlier time there existed large anisotropies and inhomogeneities that became stretched out and the black holes disappeared. These strikes me as more white holes, where in a forwards direction matter and energy erupted from them.


  10. jimhenson says

    the third law of thermodynamics that absolute zero temp is unreachable doesn’t apply for black holes. I suggest that black holes could all have temperatures below absolute zero that get colder as the size mass gravity increases. The big-bang was a very large hot eruption like a white hole that would have temperature ranges all above absolute zero. then smaller black holes formed after the big-bang that are still below absolute zero.

  11. jimhenson says

    the mass of a black hole is inversely proportional to its Temperature. largely neglected is a dependence of gravitational force on the absolute temperatures of interacting mass; the Gravitational mass decreases with increased Temperature, an nearer to the sun plasma shows that the effective magnitude of Newton’s gravity constant is less then its standard value. Could the big-bang have been hot enough to decrease the force of gravity and facilitate the explosion, and could dark energy cool the universe enough to increase the force of gravity and cause a contraction?

  12. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    Black holes obey the basic laws of thermodynamics. A black hole with absolute zero temperature would have an infinite mass.


  13. William928 says

    How do we know with any degree of certainty that Black Holes obey basic laws of thermodynamics? Have adequate experiments been conducted in the LHC to confirm this?

  14. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    Uhmm, errm no, we don’t have any experimental data on the temperature of black holes. The reason is simple. The formula for the temperature of a black hole is

    T = hbar-c^3/8piGMk

    A stellar sized black hole has a temperature of about 10^{-7}K, which is pretty small. It is much lower then the environment temperature. A black hole around 10^{-11} cm will have a temperature of around a billion K. The problem here is that the black hole is around 10^10Kg.

    The LHC might find amplitudes which have black hole properties, and from this a temperature might be deduced. This sort of data will come later in the cycle of experiments though. Don’t expect any black hole or AdS physics from the LHC for at least another decade.


  15. jimhenson says

    The ideal gas law PV=nRT is a result of Newton’s Gravitational Law and QM. P=pressure v=volume n= # of moles of electrons, being Einsteins equal mass temp electron black holes equation. R=molar entropy units, that we speculate exist for SMBH event horizons, that also is a physical universal gas constant equivalent to the Boltzmann constant having pressure-volume energy units per kelvin Temperature per Mole not per particle ! Besides the ideal gas law equation, the constant R appears in the Nernst equation! The Nernst equation has an equilibrium potential associated with it whereby the diffusive chemical forces and the electrical forces balance, called a membrane potential. The Nernst equation has R , Faradays constant , and z = valence of the ion. I suggest that by using the Nernst equation, black holes might be able to be colder T then absolute zero ! Several heavy elements in some recent experiment I cannot find when using the Nernst equation in solid state physics did not apply because they would have to be at temperatures below absolute zero. Perhaps the dark matter galaxy halos is normal gaseous matter at very low absolute zero temperature, and black holes really can be colder then the lowest unit set on the kelvin scale. even when all molecular motion has stopped at absolute zero, there are smaller moving particles in motion

    transfer flow of heat energy is from the hotter object to the colder object.

  16. jimhenson says

    the Multicomponent Nernst-PLANCK Ionic Diffusion Equation which is extremely long is actually that which is for a “dusty gas MEMBRANE MODEL” or why not a GALAXY in my black hole model of the Universe and Theory of Everything ! suppose we were to start using the Ideal Gas constant PV=nRT which is derived from newtonian gravity, and is also the best way to define the molar fraction unit n in the equation. A black hole modeled by these equations is an anion-exchange membrane where two MONOvalent counter-ions behaving like magnetic monopoles will achieve electrical neutrality by the equation C1 + C2 = C4 ,which are known proven to be identical by comparison to black hole squared constant equations.

  17. soul says

    Quick question if this is light stretched out to microwave patterns heading away from us faster then the speed of light how can we see it? Is it colliding with itself at range and moving faster then the speed of light back to us? With inflation impossible? I am sorry just curious as this has never been explained to me.

    Thank you!

  18. jimhenson says

    Science and society needs correct observation of visible reality, and a scientist here to put everything together about gravity and the universe. able willing if necessary to think creatively, abandon accepted theories, and to throw out most of everything believed today by simplfication cancelation etc combine some equations like Hawking did, and find something do something work on it! E=mc2 is a simple equation. Gravitational Lensing might well be Diffraction e.g. and c is not a constant it slows down thru denser media, light itself can be slowed stopped entirely. physics equations don’t disappear they do contribute and apply to cosmological structures, which includes Faradays constant Hawking says is a electromagnetic Gravity laser ring galaxy like effect, and also by Newtown’s gravity as the Ideal “Plasma” Gas Law where gravity weakens with increasing temperature. Currently scientists here are blatantly not producing even trying to find a really GOOD EQUATION that will prove something new and that will revolutionize the world. let’s work together, give me some leads on where to research, perhaps to help build a better model then the big-bang. I’ve heard PHI is special but of course E8 is not everything theory.

  19. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    Soul, That is a good question. I could just say, well compute light geodesics in the FLRW metric and find out. But a more descriptive approach might work better. Suppose you have a huge sheet of rubber, and at the edges you have accelerating vehicles attached to them. As they accelerate points on the rubber sheet begin to accelerate from each other. The next idealization is that the rubber sheet never breaks, it does not lose elasticity and it can stretch “infinitely.” Now take your pencil and mark a point there, called x, which represents your reference frame — where your galaxy is. We now let ants represent photons and we assume the march in a straight line and at constant speed. So from your point x there is a circle of point that recede away at “ant speed.” So if you try to send an ant to any point beyond this circle you can’t, for the galaxy there will always move faster than your ant. What is curious though is the ant only moves with respect to the local points it is crawling on, so it will travel far beyond that circle, but it just will not reach any points which started out beyond that circle. Now suppose at the point x you look into the past, or you try to measure the ants which have been emitted by particles in your causal past. It turns out that the ants can reach you, even if they are beyond that circle. While the points the ant is moving on are traveling away faster than ant speed, as the ant crawls in your direct it constantly crawls across points moving slower and will eventually reach you. This is why we can observe galaxies with a z > 1, which are being frame dragged by the expansion of space “faster than light,” or really the local speed of light.


  20. Member

    Yeah, and √[(2 + Zebra)^3 / Glockenspiel] = 99.999999% Plasma!

  21. jimhenson says

    So that’s really all there is to the plasma gas dust black hole EU “stuff”, a “relativistic drive mechanism” in the universe, that essentially makes magnetism close to zero in the universe ? Please inform if the magnetic effects would become intense at relativistic speeds, like inside a wormhole, and decrease when gravity increases, like inside a solar system on a planet?

  22. Torbjorn Larsson OM says

    Returning after a terrible cold:

    String theory does predict noncommuative geometry, and is a part of the reason for this generalized uncertainty principle.

    Sure there are non-commutativity in geometry such as in our own 3D rotations, and string theory can predict a lot of genuine such geometries. However, the GUP builds on a quantization of space at the Planck scale as a result of an attempt to build a “dual string TOE”. (Veneziano’s paper is behind a paywall, but so much is clear from the abstract.)

    Again, we know that this doesn’t happen, as timing of supernova photons have probed beyond Planck scales and found a) no geometric granularity b) Lorentz invariance holds (and then likely all the way down).

    These strikes me as more white holes,

    Now you lost me, since white holes have been found to be unstable, yes?

  23. Torbjorn Larsson OM says


    Here is btw some anti-glockenspiel:

    “… and find their relativistic drive mechanism remains dominate over other effects until magnetic fields of 1 gauss or so which is much larger than most magnetic fields ever observed, thus the relativistic drive is the only dominant effect. The relativistic drive mechanism will likely help us understand, among other things, the origin of magnetic fields in astrophysical and cosmic settings.”

    No more room for EU-of-the-gaps explanations! Cosmological scale magnetic fields may all be due to a simple relativistic effect.

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