The Big Bang Theory

Going back a few decades there was huge debate upon how the universe started and how it might end. The term “big bang” theory was to make fun of this “stupid” idea that the universe sprang from a point.



The “Big Bang Theory” had one major fact in its favour. When, in the 1920s Hubble was one of the major researchers who extended the discovery of “red shift” (see also the Doppler effect) into a calculation and discovered that the shift was proportional to the distance from us. That must mean that the most distant galaxies are going away most quickly.

In the image of the two spectra notice that the black absorption lines are identical but the colour spectrum has been shifted across.

Absorption lines red shifted against the background spectrum

As a visual aid imagine the universe expanding like a balloon being blown up. As the universe gets bigger the galaxies get further apart and the radiation, such as light, travelling between the galaxies, gets further stretched. All radiation is getting more stretched out getting longer wavelengths as the galaxies move further apart. (The size of the galaxies themselves does not increase, the stars within them are held together by gravity.)

It follows that if everything is moving away now, in the past it all must have been close together, or even at one instant of time, at a single point. Then everything exploded outwards!

More evidence from microwaves

The theory also predicted that there must be energy remains left over from a big band, a sort of echo of the explosion, and that could not be found. Not until, that is, Penzias and Wilson accidentally discovered background microwaves when trying to get rid of interference in a radio receiver they were building.

The Crick and Wilson radio telescope

What was initially thought to be uniform background microwaves was later, when superior orbiting telescopes were available, found to have variations in intensity. This had again been predicted by exponents of the big bang and further enhanced the status of the theory.

Image of background microwave temperature