Temperature of the Universe

What is the universe’s temperature? How has it changed and evolved? What causes the temperature to change? How is the temperature estimated? Is it continuously cooling or constant? –Pcelsus

Black Body Curve of the Cosmic Microwave Background

13.75 billion years ago, the Universe was much smaller and hotter. In the 1960s, Robert Dicke predicted a remnant “glow” from the Big Bang. In 1965 at the Bell Labs, radio astronomers Amo Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered that glow, named the cosmic microwave background radiation. The CBR was seen in all directions in empty space, with a black body curve (temperature ~3K in every direction). About 1 second after the Big Bang, the Universe was very hot, at ~1 billion K. At 3 minutes, protons and neutrons combine to form the nuclei of atoms. As space cooled, material condensed and atomic particles, then elements, molecules, stars, and galaxies formed. The hydrogen/ helium ratio (3:1) found today is about the same as what’s expected after the Big Bang. Atoms were “ionized” with electrons roaming free without being bound. At 300,000 years after the Big Bang, the Universe becomes transparent with a temperature of 3,000K. Light red-shifted by a factor of 1000, and the expansion of the Universe ensued.

Today, the Universe is 2.73K, or 2.73°C above absolute zero, but at the beginning of space and time, the Big Bang, the Universe reached over one billion degrees. From a single pinpoint, the Universe emerged as a scorching hot primordial soup of subatomic particles moving at high velocities. As the Universe expanded, the temperature cooled as more space was created and density decreased. The Universe is continuously cooling as it expands.

Measuring the temperature isn’t as simple as sticking a thermometer in space and waiting until it stabilizes at a certain temperature. Instead, scientists measure indirectly using the cosmic microwave background, or leftover radiation emitted by hot plasma 38,000 years after the Big Bang. As the Universe expanded, the electromagnetic waves of the CMR elongated and decreased in energy, leading to cooler temperatures. Using Planck’s law, scientists measured the black body radiation of the Universe. Planck’s law states that every object radiates electromagnetic energy according to temperature. Black body curves are lopsided, with the curve peaking at different wavelengths depending on the object. In fact, space has a nearly perfect black body curve, since physical objects tend to absorb and reflect light in certain wavelengths.


Age of Earth and Age of the Universe

How do scientists determine the ages of the Earth and the Universe? –Peyami


Age of Earth

Planet Earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old. But how did scientists determine this? With the radiometric dating of meteorites and the ages of the oldest known minerals. While the oldest meteorites found on Earth are approximately 4.5 billion years old, the oldest known mineral, zircon, discovered by Jack Hills in Australia is at least 4.4 billion years old. One meteorite used was the Canyon Diablo meteorite (4.55 billion years old) aged by C. C. Patterson. Since most of Earth’s minerals have undergone change in the core, mantle, and crust by plate tectonics, weathering, and hydrothermal circulation (circulation of hot water), scientists usually cannot use them in dating Earth. However, scientists used ancient Archaean lead ores of galena (natural mineral form of lead II sulfide), the earliest formed homogenous lead isotope, which very precisely dated Earth at 4.54 billion years. Furthermore, inclusions rich in calcium and aluminum in meteorites were formed within the solar system about 4.567 billion years age. As the oldest known solid component of meteorites, these Ca-Al inclusions determine the age of the solar system and set the upper limit of the age of Earth. Scientists do not known the time of Earth’s accretion (growth by gravitationally attracting more matter), but believe it started some after the Ca-Al inclusions formed.

In fact, scientists have long debated over and calculated the age of Earth. People had estimated Earth at just hundred of thousands of years! Later, scientists extended their estimates with more evidence. However, it wasn’t until Charles Darwin, who proposed the theory of natural evolution, that scientists began to make closer estimates. Using the molecular clock and the rate of genetic divergence, scientists estimate the last universal ancestor of all organisms at 3.5-3.8 billion years old.

Expansion of the Universe

Age of the Universe

The age of the Universe is 13.75 billion years old. People long thought the Universe as much younger— millions, let alone billion of years old. Edwin Hubble’s observations in the 1920s showed that the Universe has a finite age. Using Doppler Shift, Hubble discovered that the Universe was expanding. Every galaxy seemed to be moving away from each other, showing red shifts in their spectral lines. In 1958, Allan Sandage made the first calculation of a value called the Hubble’s constant, which determines the rate of the Universe’s expansion. With the Hubble’s constant, Sandage made the first accurate (closer than before) estimate of the age of the Universe at ~20 billion years. Discovered in 1965, the microwave cosmic background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang, confirmed the expanding Universe theory. As the Universe expanded, it gradually cooled. The CBR shows the Universe at 2.7 K. In fact, scientists have recently discovered dark energy. Dark energy accelerates the expansion of the Universe, reducing earlier estimates of >14 billion years to 13.75 billion years.

Graph of Expansion: Expansion is Accelerating!

Expansion of the Universe

Expansion of the Universe

Hubble’s Law, written by Edwin Hubble in the 1920s, describes the expansion of the Universe.

Edwin Hubble & Expansion of the Universe – Timeline

1917: Vesto Slipher discovered that the spectra of galaxies were almost always red shift (moving away). Infact, most galaxies are moving away and 2 out of 15 spirals moving at over 2 million miles per hour.

1929: Edwin Hubble derived distances to these galaxies and showed that implied recessional speed, v1, is proportional to its current distance from us

  • Hubble’s Law: V – H0d, where  H0 is Hubble’s constant (71 km·s –¹/Mpc), v is velocity, and d is distance
  • The value of Hubble’s constant is how fast the Universe is expanding now; if Hubble’s constant is bigger, the Universe is expanding faster

1927: Belgian astronomer, G. Lamaitre, had a similar result, proving that the Universe is expanding

  •  Combined Einstein’s theory of relativity with the redshifts of spiral galaxies
  • Published a paper on mathematical  super structure connecting redshifts and expanding Universe of general relativity, but nobody noticed since he was only an obscure Belgian priest and mathematician
  • Universe began as a single pinpoint, a primordial soup

1998: Acceleration of the expansion of the Universe is caused by “cosmic anti-gravity” or “dark energy” (still unexplained)

Measuring Velocities of Red Shift

  • Light of a galaxy moving away from us will be “red-shifted,” or the wavelength gets longer
  • Light of a galaxy moving toward us will be “blue-shifted,” or the wavelength gets shorter
  • The faster the speed galaxies travel, the more the “red-shift”
  • Objects at the edges of galaxies tend to move faster than objects in the centers

Understanding the Expansion

  • Galaxies are all moving away from us: Does that mean we are at the center of the Universe?
    • No. There is “no” center. All points in space claim to be the center
    • e.g. Raisin bread rising: raising don’t expand, the space between them expands

Olbers’ Paradox— Why is the night sky dark?

  • In the 19th century, astronomer Wilhelm Olbers asked: If the Universe is finite, why isn’t the sky bright from starlight?
  • The solution is not that stars are increasing far away, but that the apparent brightness of a star decreases (1/d²), the area of shells of stars surrounding the Earth increases like d², so the effects cancel out
  • Another solution was that the Universe has finite size, so that not all of the light from all the stars has had time to reach us (Universe expanding); the Universe is 14 billion years old, and we only see “out” 14 billion light years distance from us