Thursday, January 7, 2010

Universe Baby Pictures

Most people are curious and fascinated about their birth and details of their early life. We want to know how we came to be, the circumstances of our birth, and when the birth occurred. Perhaps most important, we want to see our baby pictures.

In the last few days, hundreds of news reports and images of our universe’s early appearance have flooded the media. Mosaics taken with the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) last fall have been combined with previous Hubble shots from 2004 to show images of our universe’s appearance after only 5% of the time elapsed since the creation event. This means we are looking back in time 13 billion years.

The core theological truth that “In the beginning God created…” has come into visual focus for our inspection. These cosmic events precede the appearance of our planet and its life forms. The recent revelations are analogous to a 40-year-old man viewing a panoramic time exposure of himself, a progressive image of events of his life for the past 38 years. The image, according to a writer for Science Daily, “shows a rich tapestry of 7500 galaxies stretching back through most of cosmic history… The farthest galaxies, a few of the very faint red specks, are seen as they appeared more than 13 billion years ago.” The light has been in transit for 13 billion years.

Our universe, cooling and expanding since the creation event, stretches out the light from ancient galaxies as the light approaches us. Short wavelengths are thereby stretched to longer wavelengths. With light, traveling at 300,000 km/sec, this is called “redshift” and is one of the evidences for an expanding universe. Red light waves are longer than any other color; the term refers to the lengthening of any electromagnetic wave. It is related to a phenomenon called the Doppler Effect, which applies to any type of wave including sound waves in air. For example, we have all observed a vehicle’s horn sound a lower pitch after it passes us and lengthens the distance between us. After the vehicle passes, the sound waves reaching us are stretched out, causing lower frequency, lower energy, and a sound we perceive as a lower pitch.

Even earlier “baby pictures” of our universe were discovered by Arno Penzias in 1965. The cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) coming from every location in the sky, can only be explained as relic radiation from the time photons of light first started streaming away from the hot plasma cloud after it cooled sufficiently. Scientists calculate this was about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. Since then, the expansion of the universe has also stretched out the radiation generated by the event. The radiation has now been “redshifted” to microwaves 1.9 mm long.

This bath of leftover energy enables scientists to calculate the temperature of the background of the universe as 2.725 degrees Kelvin, just barely above absolute zero. It’s as though yesterday’s campfire retains a tiny bit of heat from its initial red hot condition, but after a protracted time has only a relic of its initial heat and gives off no more light. As I study the evidences for a very ancient universe, I am thankful the Creator has given us the means to discover truths about how He accomplished the task of developing the picture of reality we observe in the 21st century.