Midnight Oil

NMOC Re: [Powderworks] Astrophysicist Worker

Andy Gillcrist andrewg at nwlink.com
Thu Oct 30 00:11:49 MST 2003

I'm a software guy by profession, but physics in general
and astrophysics in particular, especially as it relates
to cosmology, are major interests of mine.  Right now I'm
slowly making my way through Martin Rees' "New Perspectives
in Astrophysical Cosmology," which I had to put down for a
while because my (signed!) copy of Wille's showed up.  Well,
hey, at least I have my priorities straight!

I also like learning about particle physics and theory,
although I'm nowhere near the math whiz I'd need to be to
have any real depth of understanding in that field.  But
what the hell, it's still fascinating.

What really interests me, though, is the juxtaposition of
the two in the early universe, during and shortly after
the Big Bang.  In its first fraction of a second, the
Universe was this incredibly dense, incredibly hot jumble
of particles and radiation all flying around, expanding
and cooling rapidly, and what really dominated at that time
was the interactions between the particles and radiation.
We can extrapolate backward from what we know today about
those interactions, and we think we have a pretty good
idea how things must've gone in the big bang, at least
after the first ten-to-the-minus-thirtieth of a second.
Those interactions determined the abundance of hydrogen
and other light elements in the early universe, and the
hydrogen gas started clumping togther in increasing
amounts under gravitational attraction to form the first
stars and galaxies.  Heavier elements were forged inside
those stars, and scattered around the universe when some
of the stars ended their lives as supernovas.  The
gravitational clumping started again, this time with
other elements mixed in with the hydrogen, and eventually,
over a few more cycles, some of those clumps formed into
solar systems and planets and stuff... and here we are.

At least, that's what we think happened.

So, if that's true, then quite literally, we are all
made of stardust.  Gotta love that!

I could ramble on for hours about all of this stuff.
It's all interesting to me, and there are just so many
Big Questions in here.  For example:

How (or better, why) did the fundamental forces and laws
of nature become established with the values and properties
they have today, so that the universe could evolve the way
it has, allowing the existence of conscious beings who are
able to contemplate such ideas?  If the strengths of any of
the four forces had been even the tiniest bit different,
we would not be here to think about it.  Not in our current
forms, anyway.

Or, why are there so many different kinds of particles?
Are they all just different forms of the same thing, as
string theory suggests?  What purpose do they serve, aside
from intriguing scientists?

Or, why do particles exhibit quantum behavior, anyway?
Will we ever truly understand the wave-particle duality?

Or, what causes the gamma-ray bursts we've been detecting?
Something really big blowing up?  Black holes eating stars?
(Apparently it's a good thing we don't detect those any
closer than we do.)

Or, why does the universe appear to not only be expanding,
but expanding at an increasing rate?  What's up with THAT?

Or, just what the hell is dark matter, anyway?  Neutrinos?
Something else?  What?  WHAT?

It's all totally cosmic!  And the more we learn, the
weirder it gets.

And my main regret about being mortal is that it's unlikely
I'll ever find out the answers to most of those questions.

Oh well... at least there's good music to listen to while
I ponder the mysteries.

	\_/   Andy

-----Original Message-----
From: Powderworks (on behalf of Patrick Collins)
Subject: NMOC Re: [Powderworks] Astrophysicist Worker

Sorry, it's not me, but I thought I was the only one.  How many other 
astrophysicist powderworkers are there?