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Cosmology and a Babyboomer

        In the year fifteen billion, 2007 post Big Bang I turned fifty years old.  The matter comprising my organic being I refer to as self, has been around in one way, shape or form since the beginning of the universe.  Actually, the consensus of scientific knowledge suggests that everything in existence today began its journey at the Big Bang.

Our energy spent its first moments in a plasma bath forming elementary particles smaller than atoms. Then the constituents of our matter bonded to form the first atoms of hydrogen, helium and lithium.  As such, we spent our early years together in nursery stars that populated the universe, only to blow up and disperse us.   During the formative years spent in denser, hotter stars, our matter got bigger and heavier, only to blow up and disperse us once again.  Fortunately, we got together in this neighborhood called the Milky Way galaxy.  So fellow travelers, since we have been through so much together, I feel I can share an insecurity with you.  I have a problem with my age.

I am sitting in Golden Valley, Minnesota looking at images on the internet of the earlier me a half a billion years or so after the Big Bang.  I know it's me because the images are of the primordial universe, the ancestral home of my matter.  The photons from the primordial universe are just now arriving at planet Earth and are measured to have traveled about fifteen billion light years.  This figure has two dimensions, distance and time.  It is hard enough to comprehend how long fifteen billion years is, but the distance the photon traveled is an even more mind boggling 8.8 X 10 22nd miles.  We know from what Einstein taught us, that as far as the photon is concerned, it just left the primordial universe.  In essence, it has always been here.  But to my relative position in space time, that photon is really old, bent over from warily traveling around galaxies' gravitational fields and showing its age with red shift.

We know that the atoms in the Earth and solar system have been around for at least four to five billion years.  Since I am so up close and personal with the planet, made of the same stuff so to speak, that we can assume that the atoms that eventually made me got to this immediate neighborhood about the same time as the solar system was formed.

Now here is my problem.  If my atoms got here about five billion years ago, how can that be me fifteen billion light years away.  No part of me could have traveled fifteen billion light years in ten billion years, because nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

This may suggest that some of my photon chums from the stellar nursery actually have traveled fifteen billion light years, but the matter that made up me traveled no more than ten billion light years.  How can this be?  Well the clue may be in the shape of the universe.

Physicist Brian Greene suggested that the shape of the universe may be like a flat panel video screen.  Using that analogy on the Word document I am typing, I can move the cursor located a third of the way across a written page on the screen to the left, all the way to the edge of the virtual page.  If I continue holding down the left arrow key, my cursor comes out one line up from the right side of the page.  In due time, it will reach the point near where it began to move left.  The distance the cursor traveled is a full page width, about six inches.  It arrived to a later point in time, at a place in a line just above where it began.  I could have just hit the up arrow one line and arrived at the same point much quicker.

Now what if we think of the cursor on the virtual page as a photon from near the beginning of the universe, the letters around the word I typed before I moved the cursor are my neighborhood.   The photon left my neighborhood and returned, but everything in my neighborhood just moved up one line.  Everyone in my neighborhood perceived the same relative position of the photon in space time as really old and traveling a great distance.  Even so, we did not move very much.

The same could be said for the wandering photon if the shape of the universe is elliptical following the curvature of the universe, or perhaps saddle-shaped like a Pringle potato chip, riding the peaks and valleys.  Just because a photon traveled a great distance does not mean every atom in my being had to have traveled just as far as every old photon observed.

Therefore, this year I am knocking a third off my age and celebrating my 10 billionth, plus fifty birthday.  I feel much younger already.


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