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Cosmology 101

June 27, 2006

kr’s note #1: Shaykh Amin, from last Saturday’s introduction to hadith class referring to people who attempt to discredit “weak” hadith while knowing nothing of the sciences of hadith, as per the narration of Alti: “When someone tells you that a hadith is weak, just tell them to STOP, straight to their face (::waves hand::). You don’t know what you’re talking about… just stop right there. Your fatwa is to shut up.”

kr’s note #2: What follows are the notes I jotted down while reading The Whole Shebang, a book that I’ve referenced to in the past several posts. As you might have noticed, I was fascinated with the book the moment I picked it up. I’ve been amazed with cosmology and theories about the formation/current state/predicted ends of the universe ever since I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time on the recommendation of a friend. Some of you might be thinking that this stuff is dense and has no relevance but I would merely offer and suggest that everyone who has the chance to get their feet wet with cosmology should do so. If you’re looking for an iman-boost, I think this might be an excellent place to find it.

1. In the wake of the big bang, everything was a big pile of cosmic “mush” of plasma, eventually thinning out enough to let protons escape the primordial ooze. These particles of light, once set free, travelled through the vastness of space during cosmic expansion, and thus such cosmic expansion stretched their wavelengths as well, converting them from light particles (short wavelengths) to microwave particles (long wavelengths). The idea is that these particles should still be around today in the “background” of the universe; this is the speculation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), and was calculated to have a temperature of three degrees above absolute zero. It should also be isotropic, meaning that it should be equal at any given “point” in the universe, assuming that light particles split off evenly from the big-bang. Recently, this CMB was actually found (the exact temperature being 2.726 degrees over absolute zero), and every observer with a microwave radio telescope, no matter where he looks in the sky, will see the universe as a sphere that is almost transparent nearby but is opaque at its distant and fiery walls.

2. Matter is changeable, meaning that its relatively unchanging state results from encountering it late in cosmic history… and that matter is mostly space. If we scaled a typical atom, making the nucleus the size of a golf ball, the outermost electons would be two miles away. What then feels solid about a tabletop is that the electromagnetic fields set up by atoms in the table repel similar fields in your hand. Kinda makes one re-think what is “real” and what isn’t… and for the record, don’t try running through a brick wall thinking that you can pass through it because its mostly empty space. Well, if you are smart enough to try it, you should do it and remove yourself from the human genome. But I digress.

3. Using calculations, scientists have reasoned that the big bang could only have created deuterium, helium, hydrogen, lithium, and some beryllium, but nothing heavier than that. The problem is that there is no stable atomic nuclei of the atomic weights 5 and 8. When atoms build up and get to 5 and then again at 8, they promptly break up and disintegrate. In 1950, Enrico Fermi reviewed every conceivable reaction mechanism and concluded that the big bang could have made almost nothing heavier than lithium. So if we assume the Big Bang was random chance, to amuse the atheists, how does one explain the existence of every other element such as oxygen and nitrogen which are in abundance today?

4. When Allah says He created the sun and it “runs according to His Decree”, He really means it. Check this out: The sun turns 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium every second, converting 4 million tons of it into energy. This is the proton-proton process which accounts for 98% of the sun’s energy. And despite all that energy, even a fraction of which would eradicate us instantaneously, we get just the right amount to survive, grow crops, and enjoy the bounties of the sun.

5. If our universe is an omega = 1 universe in which light elements were made in the wake of the big bang, then all the planets, stars, galaxies we see, all the billions of objects in the astronomical catalogues, constitute but 1 percent of the matter in the cosmos. This leads us to believe that most of the universe is dark, and all that we have studied to date is a “shadow” universe. How much more is out there?

6. Scientists have roughly arranged structure in the universe into 5 categories:
a. Groups of galaxies: few million light years wide, 3-6 main galaxies in it, with a dozen or so smaller ones. Orbital velocities are “low” (100-200km per second)
b. Clusters: 10-20 million light years in diameter; 100-1000’s of galaxies. Clusters are the largest gravitationally bound systems in the universe. Velocities are higher, 1,000km per second.
c. Clouds: 30 million light years in diameter
d. Superclusters: 100 million light years in diameter, 10k galaxies each.
e. Walls/Sheets: a billion light-years in length (about 5 percent of the radius of the OBSERVABLE UNIVERSE)… what’s even freakier is that between walls, there’s NOTHINGNESS, voids of 200-300 million light years (don’t you just love saying those types of numbers) in between such walls.
**Thus the distribution of bright matter in the universe resembles swiss cheese….holy crap, how big is the cosmos then?
**This macro-level of organization basically represents the micro-level organization of an atom: if we span the universe from nuclear to intergalactic dimensions, we encounter the same theme: areas of emptiness–voids between the nucleus and the electron shell of the atom, between stars and their planets, between galaxy clusters and voids, and so forth–are interspersed with high-density regions, like atomic nuclei, molecules in crystals, and galaxy clusters and walls. “We shall show them Our Signs in the farthest horizons and in their own selves until it is manifest to them that it (the Qur’an or Allah) is the Truth”.

7. An interesting reason on why the sky is dark at night by Edward Harrison from the University of Massachusetts: the total energy of the universe–that is the energy that would be released were ALL matter (again, just how much that is is unimaginable) converted into energy –is insufficient to light up the sky. The distant fires of the big bang are actually “too dim” to light up the universe (again, HOW BIG is it???). On a sidenote, his research partner, a astrophysicist named Yakov Zeldovich has an interesting quote: “…the highest praise to God is the unbelief of the scholar who is sure that the perfection of the world makes the existence of gods unnecessary.”

PS: How depressing is it to have my current reading return to this sort of stuff…


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  1. firstl, let me introduce myself. i am umair haseeb, aka snigit. you may have known my old xanga, umocool, but i am now snigit.
    anyway awesome post.
    try to make your posts a little shorter!
    subscribe to me

  2. Anonymous permalink

    haha i am snigit…hear me roar…
    lol sorry…
    good post…well all i read was your note #1

  3. “your fatwa is to shut up.” hahahaha, alti is a stud mA

  4. Hey kr, will it really kill you to take 5 mins out of talking to potential rishtas online to talk to me (an orphan)? =(

  5. Great post, Mr Alti’s quote has much wisdom in it, as does Yakov’s.
    Intellect and Wisdom do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can have people with a great deal of one but really lacking in the other. You need both to sail the mysterious sea of Knowledge.

  6. Salaams,
    Nice post, I’m not a HUGE science guy (finance major) but I do like reading about it. I love Yakov’s quote too because I have come into contact of such people (especially in the science field) who feel all the answers are within science and if we haven’t figured it out we will. Like your above quote it can be an Iman booster but if a person of weak iman is reading books/articles that go against Islam, it may have a completely adverse effect as well.
    All in all just another brick in the wall for KR.

  7. these props are for alti. I’m with abdul.I’d give you two more for being hot, but the limit is two.

  8. Anonymous permalink

    nice post. its not depressing. i love this stuff and stephen hawking’s book. you should do a post on his concept of time. it will blow your brains out.

  9. interesting post

  10. Anonymous permalink

    *giggles* I’m getting too much recognition…
    I hope people realize that the quote was NARRATED by me and was SAID by Shaykh Amin…

  11. i think i agree with everyone else when they say that that quote was pretty awesome.

  12. WOW brother RiazAssalamu Alaikumwow, can I go so far as to say that I am proud to say that you are my akhee?I can’t say that I always make it through all of your posts but I can say that I always get something out of it. MashAllah, and keep writing.I am far from telling you what to do, because that is not my place, but it would be cool if you wrote a book.I assure you I have no ulterior motive for this praise, save to encourage you to continue sharing your mind with the rest of us. Jazakallah KhairAssalamu ALaikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatuhu.PS. regarding the universe: i read something once about how in the Qur’an it refers to a “knocking star”. Recently (past decade or so) researchers discovered somehow that there is a star known as a pulsar I believe, and although space being a vacuum has no sound, if the star were to behave in atmospheric conditions, it would exhibit a distinctly knocking (pulsing, hence the name) noise.

  13. Surgical Recall looks like it is quite the cliffhanger…let me know how it ends. I eagerly await.

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