Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SDLC - The Big Bang Model

One of the primary successes of the Big Bang theory is its explanation for the chemical composition of the universe. Recall that the universe is mostly hydrogen and helium, with very small amounts of heavier elements. How does this relate to the Big Bang,

Well, a long time ago, the universe was hot and dense. When the temperature is high enough (a few thousand degrees), atoms lose all their electrons; we call this state of matter, a mix of nuclei and electrons, a fully-ionized plasma. If the temperature is even higher (millions of degrees), then the nuclei break up into fundamental particles, and one is left with a "soup" of fundamental particles:

Now, if the "soup" is very dense, then these particles will collide with each other frequently. Occasionally, groups of protons and neutrons will stick together to form nuclei of light elements ... but under extremely high pressure and temperature, the nuclei are broken up by subsequent collisions. The Big Bang theory postulates that the entire universe was so hot at one time that it was filled with this proton-neutron-electron "soup."

But the Big Bang theory then states that, as the universe expanded, both the density and temperature dropped. As the temperature and density fell, collisions between particles became less violent, and less frequent. There was a brief "window of opportunity" when protons and neutrons could collide hard enough to stick together and form light nuclei, yet not suffer so many subsequent collisions that the nuclei would be destroyed.

This "window" appeared about three minutes after the starting point, and lasted for a bit less than a minute. Which nuclei would form under these conditions? Experiments with particle colliders have shown us that most of the possible nuclei are unstable, meaning they break up all by themselves, or fragile, meaning they are easily broken by collisions.

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