The Oldest Light In The Universe
Scientists believe cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation is the oldest light in the Universe. NASA's satellite - the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) - was sent up to measure the light that they believe was left over from the Big Bang. Their calculations suppose that with the expansion and cooling of the Universe, the light from the Big Bang has now been stretched to longer wavelengths in the microwave region. These wavelengths are in the range of millimetres. The COBE satellite carried instruments to measure wavelengths in this region. But if we are looking for light left over from the Big Bang, maybe we should be looking for wavelengths that are bigger than millimetres. Perhaps we should be looking for wavelengths that are much, much bigger.
Einstein showed that energy and matter are the same universal substance, simply vibrating at different frequencies. The Universe is energy, and this energy is contantly changing forms dependent upon its frequency. Scientists are exploring a possible model which would explain how this energy moves at an atomic level, before it stretches out to encompass the Universe. This new model has been given the affectionate title of 'the golden spiral'.
Try and imagine you are standing on the steps of an immense spiral staircase. You look down over the edge and the stairs spiral down in ever decreasing circles. As your eyes wander over each step, you notice that they become smaller and smaller. The stairwell appears to stretch for miles and miles. At the very bottom is a zero-point singularity which is too far away for you to see. Now hold onto the handrail because it's going to feel a little uncomfortable - the entire staircase is now revolving, and it's moving at the at the speed of light. It might start to feel like you are staring down the barrel of an elaborate Archimedes screw. For a point of reference we'll say that from where you stand, it turns at one revolution per second, or 1 Hertz (Hz) - which just so happens to be the frequency of the average human heart (one beat per second). What you are about to see is how energy moves at different frequencies in the Universe.
Where you are the staircase rotates at a steady pace. One full cycle of the staircase is a representation of a wavelength. When you look down you see that the steps at the bottom are spinning so fast they appear only as a seething, vibrating mass. This is on account of the steps being so atomically small, they are able to turn in a very small area. The stairs are also revolving very, very fast at this level. Each cycle happens extremely fast and very frequent, so we could say that they have a high frequency. This energy, which has extremely small wavelengths, and very high frequencies, takes on the appearance of something solid. It is at the bottom of our stairwell we find energy takes on the form of matter.
Moving up from the bottom we start to notice that even though the steps are still incredibly small, we can count the amount of times they complete a turn. So emerging from our model are the first forms of electromagnetic radiation. Gamma rays have the highest frequency, and the shortest wavelengths of less than about ten trillionths of a meter. Continuing our journey up, the spins are becoming less frequent, and the steps are gradually becoming bigger and bigger. The energy is being driven at a lower frequency, and the wavelengths are growing longer. We watch as the energy transforms from gamma rays into x-rays, and then into ultra-violet (UV). With the next form the energy manifests as something we are all familiar with - visible light. This rainbow of colours are a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths between 400 and 700 billionths of a meter. Its frequency ranges between 430,000 - 750, 000 gigahertz - and so it's still incredibly fast. One gigahertz is a wave of energy revolving 1,000,000,000 times per second.
Let us pause for a moment and reflect on something which is missing, or rather, that which is absent from the visible spectrum - the colour black. Black is the absence of any light. But throughout this model it has always been present, it's just that the colour black is more conspicuous by its absence as we enter the visible spectrum. Is it possible that a black entity accompanies the spiral staircase throughout its journey? For most certainly, a spiral staircase has to encircle around something. So it appears the black space of our stairwell has some type of influence over everything else. Surely if there was no darkness, then there could be no such thing as light. If we were able to follow the darkness all the way to the bottom, would it, or would it not, emerge unchanging from the zero-point singularity? Food for thought perhaps because we really must continue our journey up.
The lower frequencies of the red light in the spectrum merge into the infrared, and as the steps grow bigger, we see the wavelengths of the energy become larger. The energy changes into microwaves. Microwaves are electromagnetic waves with wavelengths ranging from 1mm to 1m, or frequencies between 300 GHz to 0.3 GHz. So even though the energy turns with much less frequency than that of matter, or gamma rays - there's an incredible amount of usable energy there. I mean, we can even cook a Pot Noodle with microwaves. Where you are revolving at 1Hz, you can imagine that these energies are still a long way off, and unfathomably small. The cycles at which the staircase turn appear to slow down because the steps grow further apart, and the lower frequencies now become recognisable as radiowaves.
Very High Frequency (VHF) is something we are all familiar with on the dial of our radio. The energy is now spinning in cycles that range from 300 megahertz (MHz) to 30 MHz. To try and maintain some sort of perspective, one megahertz is one million cycles per second. The wavelengths have now grown to a size which range from 1 to 10 meters. In other words, a turn of the archimedes screw at this level, revolves at a circumference of 10 meters. The energy now moves through all the radiowave frequencies until we reach the extreme of those that we able to measure - the aptly titled - extremely low frequencies (ELF). The energy at this level performs a cycle upto 3 times a second (3Hz) and has a wavelength that spans 100, 000 kms. So suddenly you are aware of your position on the spiral staircase as it stretches far out into space, thousands and thousands of kilometres wide. This would still all be happening below you, mind. From the position where you are observing this scenario at one hertz, it takes light (travelling at the speed of light) to perform one revolution, and that would be somewhere in the region of 300,000 kms. For a simple comparison, the moon is something like 300,000 kms away from the Earth. As you look up over your head, the staircase looms on ever larger, and wider, until it fills millions and millions of miles. As long as the energy keeps moving there really is no limit to the size of its wavelength. It's also interesting to note that the energy is constant throughout its entire span of the spiral - it only changes frequency.
According to Stephen Hawking, the observable Universe spans a million million million million miles across. That's a one followed by 24 zeros. If I was looking for something left over from the Big Bang, then that would be the size of the baby I would be looking for. This new model also raises some pretty interesting questions about how we observe energy. If the speed of light is not a constant, but is something which is inferred by the observer's rate of perception, what possibilities lie in-wait as we explore the energy of the golden spiral?
I would like to thank the following sites for their help, and boundless insights: http://www.fotosearch.com/photos-images/spiral.html http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/primer/lightandcolor/electromagintro.html http://esamultimedia.esa.int/esaSC/SEMB3AR1VED_index_0.html http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2324/stories/20061215001308100.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_frequency http://www.kyes.com/antenna/dipole.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_ray