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The Age of the Universe

Facts Concerning the Age of the Universe

The age of the universe is currently thought to be about 15 billions years. This date is based on one main line of evidence: the red shift in the light that is emitted from stars. This red-shift of light was first discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1947. To better understand the redshift of light it is helpful to see the analogy with sound. A train whistle goes up in pitch as a train approaches the hearer. The sound of the whistle goes down in pitch when the train passes by. The reason for this is that as the train approaches the sound waves are compressed resulting in a higher pitch. As the sound waves recede they are stretched out resulting in a lower pitch. This is known as the Doppler effect. This phenomenon is used today to predict the weather and also to catch people who break the speed limit. Light behaves in a similar way. But instead of a change in pitch there is a change in color. Light from objects that are approaching has its wavelengths compressed and therefore shifted to the blue side of the visible spectrum. Light from objects that are moving away has its wavelengths stretched out and is shifted to the red end of the spectrum. The light from most, but not all, stars is shifted to the red side. This is what is commonly known as the redshift. This redshift of light leads most scientists to conclude that the stars are moving away from some central point in the universe.

The distance to the stars is measured using a variety of methods. The easiest to use is triangulation. If you were to look at an object while alternately closing your left eye and right eyes you would notice the object appear to be in a slightly different location. This effect is known as parallax. And if you could form a triangle with your two eyes and the object being the vertices you could then use geometry to calculate the distance to that object. This process is known as triangulation. Triangulation is a common procedure for surveyors and other physical scientists. To determine the distance to a nearby star scientists view the star at different times in the earth's revolution around the sun. By noting the angle at the two farthest distances and knowing the distance between those two points they can use triangulation to determine the distance to that star. Triangulation only works for stars that are relatively close. At larger distances the angles get too small to be measured accurately. Then scientists resort to other methods including Cepheid variables and the redshift itself.

If the stars are all moving away from one central location it is then assumed that at one time they must have all been at this central location. By knowing the rate of travel and the distance scientists are able to calculate how long ago the stars were all this one location. As an example, imagine getting in your car and traveling at 60 miles per hour for a distance of 60 miles. You could easily determine that one hour ago you were at home. Scientists use exactly the same logic. They are able to estimate the age of the universe by using the doctrine of uniformity. It is assumed that the stars have been moving away from central location at a uniform rate.

It is assumed by most scientists that the universe as we know it originated from a giant explosion coming from this one central location. This explosion is commonly known as The Big Bang. Before the event known as the Big Bang there was the Big Squeeze. During the Big Squeeze all the matter in the universe was thought to have been condensed into a space not much bigger than a human fist. This matter then exploded outwardly in all directions. This expansion of the universe is thought to be continuing to this day.

A major piece of evidence for the Big Bang is background "noise" or radiation. After every explosion there is the initial noise from the explosion and then there are the after effects, or echoes, from the event. Scientists predicted that if the Big Bang actually happened then there should be some type of after-effect or background noise. This background radiation was subsequently discovered by using radio telescopes. The discovery of this background radiation was considered a major vindication for the Big Bang theory. There are many variations on this idea and even the physicists who work in this area do not agree on all of the details. But the Big Bang is generally accepted as the explanation for the creation of the universe that we see today.

Observations on the Age of the Universe

The evidence for the expansion of the universe from one central point is very strong. There are some stars that have a blue shift in their spectrum which would indicate that they are travelling towards us. But most of the current evidence agrees with the idea that all of the matter of the universe was at one time located at one central point. And it seems reasonable that this explosion started with a bang just as scientists believe.

The real question is when did this explosion take place. Scientists estimate the distance to the stars. They measure the rate of expansion. Using the doctrine of uniformity scientists can then estimate that this explosion occurred around 14 billion years ago. But what if the rate of expansion is not constant? Or what if star distances are not as great as believed?

The rate of expansion is assumed to be constant in accordance with the doctrine of uniformitarianism. This doctrine is accepted for the expansion of the universe but it is rejected, without any evidence to do so, for the strengths of the four fundamental forces. This makes for a curious situation. Why is this concept accepted without question in one case and rejected just as easily in another? Simply because if the strengths of those forces were not different in the past then the Big Bang could never have occurred. But this is not science is conjecture.

Measuring the distances to stars is not as easy as it is made to appear. Unlike measuring distances on earth there is no second method by which to verify the calculations. Scientists measure the distances to nearby stars with triangulation. They then build on the triangulation measurements with other methods to estimate the distances to medium range stars. Those measurements are built upon again by other methods to determine the distances to the farthest stars. As a child you may have sat in a circle and whispered a sentence to the person next to you. By the time it came around it was often so full of mistakes that you could not recognize the original. It may be the same with stellar distances. Any errors in measurements will be compounded radically as those measurements go through the different stages. It is entirely possible that the stars are not so far away after all.

Comets provide evidence for a young universe. Comets are basically large balls of gas and dust that revolve around our sun. As a comet gets close to the sun a portion of its mass gets blown away by the solar wind. It is known that comets could never have survived for 14 billion years. In fact, many comets are thought to have been in orbit for less than 100,000 years. So how do scientists explain the existence of young comets in a very old universe? The Oort Cloud.

The Oort cloud is thought to be a region in space where comets reside. Every so often, for reasons unexplained, a comet is thought to leave the Oort cloud and enter into an orbit around the sun. This is how we can have a young comet in a very old universe. But there is one big problem with the Oort cloud. There is absolutely no evidence that it exists. The Oort cloud was proposed by astronomer Jan Oort. Oort had no evidence that it actually existed he only proposed it to explain the existence of comets. But today the Oort cloud has been talked about so many times and in so many different ways that its existence has foe all intents and purposes become a fact. National Geographic magazine recently published a map of the universe with the Oort cloud included. The Oort cloud is yet another example of how repeating a statement or an idea enough times may result in that statement being accepted as a fact. It turns out that the Oort cloud, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy all have the same amount of evidence to support their existence - none. Without any evidence whatsoever the existence of the Oort cloud has been accepted by both scientists and the public as well. The Oort cloud is a classic example of something becoming true simply through repetition.

What is known about the universe is that by any scale it is very large and contains an enormous amount of matter in all types of glorious forms. Who isn't impressed with galaxies, nebulae, quasars, black holes and the rest? There is no argument that the universe is a very wonderful and awe inspiring creation. But to attempt to determine its age with only one line of evidence while ignoring the other is not very scientific. The redshift may argue for an old age and yet the existence of comets indicates a recent creation. So how old is the universe really? The honest answer is that no one really knows.

Age of the Earth

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