A timeline of the universe's creation. (Photo : NASA)
When you think of the universe's creation, what comes to mind? Most likely it's the Big Bang, an explosive moment in time full of heat and matter that expanded outwards rapidly into our universe today. This would have resulted in the smooth, continuous four-dimensional space we think we see around us today. But scientists are now proposing that we consider looking at the universe's creation much like water freezing into ice. They call it the 'Big Chill,' and hope to use it to prove that space is not a continuous fabric, but is instead made up of incredibly small building blocks.
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Essentially, the scientists are aiming to shift focus onto the moment the universe "crystallized" into its current form.
"Think of the early universe as being like a liquid," lead researcher of the study James Quach said. "Then as the universe cools, it 'crystallizes' into the three spatial and one time dimension that we see today. Theorized this way, as the Universe cools, we would expect that cracks should form, similar to the way cracks are formed when water freezes into ice."
The motivation for the research was Quach's interest in a theory known as Quantum Graphity.
"A new theory, known as Quantum Graphity, suggests that space may be made up of indivisible building blocks, like tiny atoms. These indivisible blocks can be thought about as similar to pixels that make up an image on a screen. The challenge has been that these building blocks of space are very small, and so impossible to see directly," says Quach.
By studying the cracks as the universe crystallized, Quach hopes to learn more about these building blocks of space.
The theory of Quantum Graphity was first suggested in 2006 by physicists from Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Einstein's theory of our four-dimensional space suggests that space is a smooth and continuous matter. Recent developments, however, show that this theory does not necessarily hold at extremely small scales. Instead, Quantum Graphity hopes to explain these anomalies by showing that the universe is not continuous, but rather made up of incredibly small building blocks.
"Light and other particles would bend or reflect off such defects, and therefore in theory we should be able to detect these effects," research team member Andrew Greentree said.
If the team succeeds in verifying their experiments, then we may soon know if space is a smooth fabric, like Einstein proposed, or the result of a universal crystallization into quantum building blocks.
Watch an Arepo simulation by scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics recreating the universe's formation: