The Great Cosmic Discovery I
Prof H Nandakumar Sarma
The discovery of microwave background radiation, neutron star, pulsar; trying to understand the cosmic forces, the discovery of anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the discovery of Higgs boson ( God’s particle ), the detection of gravitational wave and black hole etc are some of the exciting moments in the understanding of the universe. In this series, we trace some of the great cosmic discovery made from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.
“It is the stars, The stars above us, govern our
(King Lear, Act IV, Scene III)
“The fault, dear Brutus,
is not in our stars, But
in ourselves., “
(Julius Caesar, Act I Scene II)
Since the dawn of spoken word, human have devised creation stories. The question of the origin and evolution of the universe, stars fascinated mankind. Different civilisations, cultures and religions have different stories of the origin of earth, sun and the universe. Modem science too has its creation story of the universe, the Big Bang.
Based on the book Genesis, James Ussher, a seventeenth century Irish Bishop, once pronounced that the universe was created at 9 am on Sunday, October 23, in the year 4004 B.C. The Hindu scripture Vishnu Purana comes up with suggestion of a time scale comparable with those of present day astronomy. The God Brahma is regarded as the creator of the universe and overall life of the universe may be compared with one day of Brahma. When the four yugas, Satya, Tetra, Dvapara and Kali are repeated a thousand times it is one day of Brahma. One cycle of four Yugas takes 12000 divine years. One divine year is equal to 360 human years. We see that one day of Brahma is equal to 360 x 12000 x 1000 = 4320000000 = 4.32 billion years. His night is of the same duration. Thus, one complete day and night is about 8.6 billion years, which is comparable with the estimated age of a Big Bang which took place some 12 - 15 billion years ago
Legend had also the duration of the universe. In the great temple at Benaras (Kashi) beneath the dome which marks the centre of the world, rests a big brass plate in which are fixed three diamond needles, each a cubit high (a cubit is about 20 inches). On one of these needles, at the time of creation, God placed sixty four discs of pure gold, the largest disc resting on the brass plate and the other getting smaller and smaller up to the top one. This is the tower of Brahma. Day and night unceasingly, the priest on duty transfers the discs from one diamond needle to another, according to the fixed and immutable laws of Brahma. The law is that the priest must move only one disc at a time and must place these discs on needles so that there never is a smaller disc below a larger one. When all the sixty-four golden discs have been transferred from the diamond needle fixed on the brass plate, which god placed on the day of creation to one of the needles – tower, temples, and priest alike will all crumble into dust and with a thunder clap the universe will vanish. How many move would be necessary to transfer all the sixty four golden discs in the tower of Brahma from one needle to the other?
The transfer of the first disc requires only one move, but the number of moves required for each succeeding disc increases geometrically. If the priest moved the disc without making any mistake, the total number of moves necessary is 264 - 1= 18,446,744,073,709,551,615.
Then, how long would it take to transfer all the sixty-four golden discs? Suppose the priest worked day and night without any break or vacation, making one move every second, and since a year contains about 31,558000 seconds, it would take about five hundred eighty billions years to accomplish the job. This is rather long compared to the estimated age of the universe which is about 15 billion years. But after all it is only a legend !
In 1920, George Lamaitre a Belgian priest and mathematician proposed the idea of big bang theory. The theory has been revised and developed throughout the twentieth century. According to the theory, the universe was created by an explosion (big bang) from a mere point prior to the existence of either space or time. In that singular instant, some 12 to 15 billion years ago, the exploding pin-point created a universe that has continued to expand and evolve since the beginning. Modem thinkers believe that their creation story deals with reality, whereas previous accounts were mere expression of whimsy. However, even the most confident believers in big bang have had to concede that, it too is only a theory, the event of creation ultimately may be unknowable. History will judge, but perhaps in our time, enough experimental evidences have been put forward to support the big bang theory.
(H. Nandakumar Sarma was Professor of Physics and former Vice Chancellor of Manipur University)