Fiction, Physics, and BBC

“You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big space is,” said the author Douglas Adams. This citation from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy opens the BBC’s animated guide to “Big Bang: How the Universe was created” . The tone of presentation is lighthearted, the animation is eye-catching and witty. The idea of filling the Royal Albert Hall with frozen peas is undeniably cute. A text-book example of a brilliant combination of fiction and physics? Maybe.

The narrator mentions Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the Universe, the theoretical prediction that the universe is filled with free-streaming background radiation (made by Alpher, Gamow and Herman), and the accidental discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson. Then the narrator continues with the following statement:

“Around 13.8 billion years ago, all the matter in the Universe emerged from a single, minute point, or singularity, in a violent burst.”

Is this statement right? Or maybe, “It is not even wrong”?

For a comprehensive, but pretty long answer see e.g.:http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/universe/. In a nutshell, modern cosmology (a science based on a plethora of observations interpreted within the framework of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity) favors the notion that the Universe is infinite. In such a case, the universe has emerged infinite and was not born from a single point. The violent burst at the beginning was way more mind-boggling than the narrator suggests – it happened not at one point but everywhere in the universe!

Here is how the Big Bang primer at NASA cautions against a simplistic interpretation:

Please keep in mind the following important points to avoid misconceptions about the Big Bang and expansion:

  • The Big Bang did not occur at a single point in space as an “explosion.” It is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance of space everywhere in the universe. That region of space that is within our present horizon was indeed no bigger than a point in the past. Nevertheless, if all of space both inside and outside our horizon is infinite now, it was born infinite. …
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