Questioning everything there is

We are often asked “If the universe is everything, how can there be more than that?” How can we be now talking in terms of multiple universes, or “the multiverse”?

We are often asked “If the universe is everything, how can there be more than that?” How can we be now talking in terms of multiple universes, or “the multiverse”?

As usual, the problem lies with us. We often paint ourselves into a corner by using terminologies which imply absolute limits, and then find we have to go beyond them to accommodate the latest discoveries.

For example, it was not that long ago when we assumed the Earth constituted all of creation. Everything in the sky was in the heavens, where the gods lived. Then we found that there are other worlds, and that our sun is just one of billions of stars in a galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our telescopes were seeing faint, spiral, fuzzy things, which we interpreted as being new stars and planetary systems in the process of forming. Our universe had expanded to 100,000 light years across, the diameter of our galaxy.

Better observations and better telescopes showed us that each of those faint, fuzzy spirals are galaxies in their own right, each with its own collections of billions of stars. Our “universe” had become a lot larger.

More recently, thanks to instruments such as the Hubble Space telescope, we see billions of galaxies, extending out as far as we can see. In addition, mapping the cosmic microwave background, the “fading breath of the Big Bang”, shows the first traces of galaxies beginning to form.

Now that it looks as though the universe started just under 14 billion years ago and will expand indefinitely, very intriguing questions arise.

One is “what happened before the event we call the Big Bang”? Another is “How come our universe seems to be designed to produce us?”

Of course, it is hard to even approach this question because if the universe were not the way it is, we would not be here to pose the question. Non-existent life forms in empty universes would not be in a position to ask “Why are we not here?”

One argument could be that there are multiple universes, most of which are empty or chaotic, and lifeless. However, that might well be just a convenience to get around our limited understanding, with little or no factual solidity. It is true that at the moment we have no firm observational evidence of the existence of universes other than ours.

However, theoretical models suggest they exist. One of them describes a “multiverse”, resembling a multi-dimensional “cosmic foam”, where universes appear as bubbles, forming, expanding and the dissipating. It’s fascinating that in 1822, Shelley alludes to just this scenario in his poem Hellas.

The important requirement with theoretical models like this is for them to produce results that can be tested by observation. That we might be able to make those observations might sound incredible, but look how far we have come in the last two or three decades, and consider the capabilities of the new astronomical instruments coming on line or under development. We are now doing things that not long ago would have been deemed impossible. The next decade should be really fascinating.

P Mercury lies very low in the west after sunset. Saturn rises around 8 p.m.; Venus is very low in the dawn twilight. The moon will be new on April 3.




Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, and is based at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Oliver Fire Department had to put out a fire on their own training ground, and it wasn’t one they set. (Facebook)
Vehicles torched at Oliver Fire Department training grounds

This suspected arson comes after the cars were vandalized earlier and suspicious fire the night before

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Steven Brown is running for Penticton city council in the June by-election. (Contributed)
Penticton race director throws hat into city council ring

Steven Brown will run with a focus on small business

Penticton Vees celebrate a goal in their second win to start their season on Saturday night at the SOEC. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees head into final weekend tied for first in league

The Vees have two games to take the top spot

Kelsey Johnson, the City of Penticton’s manager for parks and recreation, was recognized by the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association as an emerging leader for her work. (Submitted)
National recognition for Penticton’s head of parks & rec

Kelsey Johnson was deemed an emerging leader by the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

City of Vernon Coun. Dalvir Nahal proposed two blocks of Main Street be closed to bolster recovery for downtown businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Vernon’s ‘support local’ Main Street closure would cost city $24K, staff say

Bylaw costs, loss of parking revenue and equipment logistics behind price tag

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

Peachland resident and cleanup volunteer Lloyd Stinson Sotas holds up a discarded TV riddled with bullet holes. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
PHOTOS: Peachland residents clean up community watershed

More than 70 people gave back to Mother Earth by assisting with the cleanup

Most Read