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The Universe May Have Actually Started With the Big Bounce—Not a Bang

·3 min read

From Popular Mechanics

Many physicists study the Big Bang as a beginning that came from oblivion. But some wonder if that was just an inflection point—i.e., if the universe shrank all the way down to nothing, then exploded out again like a Christmas cracker.

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These scientists study the theory of the Big Bounce, and they say their account of the beginning of our universe could do a better job putting all the facts together.

Cosmology is the overarching field that studies what, and how, the universe is. That means carefully observing the universe today and rewinding it billions and billions of years. Both the Big Bang and the Big Bounce use the foundational idea of Hubble’s Law and more to agree that today’s universe is rapidly expanding. The key difference between the two theories lies in what came before, and the difference is manifested in each theory’s consequences.

In the Big Bounce theory, the universe is expanding and contracting, seesawing back and forth in a massively big-picture timeline. Some bouncers believe this happened just once, while others believe a cyclical bouncing is what makes our universe.

And while the Big Bounce still requires large leaps that must be explained with generous scientific handwaving, proponents say it’s a lot less than with a model of the Big Bang they say is fatally flawed.

The Big Bang relies on an idea called inflation: the massively, unfathomably fast increase in volume of the universe in the tiniest fractions of a second following the Big Bang. Cosmology is certainly a field that relies on some huge and fantastical ideas, but some cosmologists have criticized inflation for being overly neat to the point of contrivance.

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Here’s why the Big Bang falls apart, or at the very least doesn't complete the picture, for Big Bounce researchers. Nova reports:

“[I]nflation could imply the existence of an infinite number of universes. Physicists discovered that inflation goes on forever, stopping only in some regions of space. These bubbles are thus closed off from each other, effectively becoming isolated universes with their own laws of physics. According to this theory, we live in one of these bubbles.”

This, critics say, gives inflation a sheen of unscientific unfalsifiability. What are we missing in a scenario where we have “that’s just our bubble, everywhere else could be different!” in our pockets as an explanation? It’s like building Ikea furniture and deciding the hardware you didn’t end up using “must just be extra.”

If the Big Bounce requires an amount of new or exotic explanatory glue, then why is it better? Well, proponents say the idea of a flexible, or even cyclical, universe in this way could explain a lot of the bigger missing pieces of the Big Bang without requiring a handwave toward a multiverse, where any physics can be rationalized. And quantum mechanics has just enhanced the Big Bounce, suggesting ways that a universe “bounced” down to a mere particle could superposition itself inside and outside of a physical limitation, for example.

Whatever the case is, when it comes to cosmology, the missing pieces of our understanding mean there should always be room for critiques and new ideas.

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