Cosmology: The clock is running out

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Cosmology: The clock is running out
Cosmology: The clock is running out

The clock is running out

It kept shaking, now it looks as if it would finally fall - the theory of the big bang, according to which the entire cosmos began billions of years ago in one point and has been expanding continuously ever since, fails at one point change that has so far received little attention: accelerated time.


It is precisely the wisdom of an old person, who basically does not understand anything at all about the models of astrophysics, that initiates a revolution, the consequences of which not even the much-cited experts can estimate at the moment. Yesterday it was almost certain that our universe had its beginning around 13.7 billion years ago in a unique act called the Big Bang, is spreading as a mixture of space and time and will in all probability become ever larger and thinner - so we are now confronted with the opposite: the cosmos has always been there, always had a constant size, which it will retain until the end, when it will "fizzle out" in a completely mysterious way.

The turning point was set by the grandmother of theoretical astrophysicist Jonathan Oke of the prestigious Middlesix University in Ohio. During a leisurely evening chat on her porch, the old lady remarked that the days used to be much longer and are getting shorter with age.

A harmless sentence that everyone has probably heard or said several times. The thought would certainly have had no consequences this time, if Oke's research area weren't the mysterious dark energy and its influence on cosmological evolution. "Your comment hit me with full force," he recalls. "I couldn't move for minutes. My wife thought I had had a stroke."

What really hit Oke was a realization that literally had universal meaning. An enlightenment that makes scientific auxiliary constructs superfluous. The big bang, which creates a universe from nothing, the dark energy, which drives galaxies apart as a kind of antigravity - both assumptions that are highly unpopular among cosmologists, but apparently necessary - dissolve into nothing if one accepts one basic assumption: time passes actually getting faster.

Of course, the cosmological acceleration, as Oke calls the effect, does not have an effect within a human lifetime. It runs so slowly that a modern day lasts exactly as long as it did at the beginning of our civilization within the limits of measuring accuracy. Calculated over billions of years, however, the change accumulates: looking back into the past, time is getting slower and faster in the future.

"A clear indication of this is the redshift of distant light sources, which Edwin Hubble once interpreted as a sign of an expansion of the universe," explains Oke. According to Hubble, the light from distant galaxies appears shifted towards red because the emitting stars are moving away from us at high speed. Oke counters that their light was emitted in an epoch when time moved more slowly and frequencies that were "blue" back then would simply look "red" by today's standards.

The supposed "beginning" of the universe 13.7 billion years ago results from different speeds of time. "According to my calculations, around this epoch, time passed so slowly that from today's perspective it seems like a standstill," says Oke. "Everything was so leisurely, as if there had been no 'before' this epoch. The entire cosmos was there."

For the future, however, the model of cosmological acceleration paints a bleak picture. If the rhythm of the universe beats faster and faster, in a few trillion years it will be shorter than the Planck time."We can't yet say what will happen then," admits Oke. "My guess is that from one moment to the next the cosmos will cease to exist. Almost like turning off the television."

Until then, however, there is still enough time to banish the theory of the big bang and the expanding universe from school books and to replace it with a presentation of cosmological acceleration. Provided that the new hypothesis is accepted by the scientific community.

Anyway, she failed J. Oke's grandmother. "He often tells such nonsense," she said in an interview. "You'd better not believe a word he says today. You know, as a little kid he…"

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