by Paul H. Carr

Isn't the metaphor "whispering cosmos" (1) a more accurate and aesthetic description than "big bang for the very cool microwave background radiation the permeates the entire universe?"

John Mather and George Smoot were recently awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in physics for their measurement of the temperature variations in the cosmic background radiation. This was done with the help of the COBE satellite launched by NASA in 1989. They gave us such a beautiful image of the anisotropy of the universe only 0.4 million years after "the beginning," known as a "big bang." The cooler regions of this baby universe could have seeded the stars and the galaxies formed 1 to 2 billions years later, as observed by the Hubble Telescope. These galaxies are about 12 billion light years away.

In 1949, astronomer Fred Hoyle coined the term big bang to deride Belgian priest George Lemaitre's prediction that the universe had originated from the expansion of a hot "primeval atom" in space-time. Lemaitre had based this on Einstein's equations of general relativity. Hoyle referred to Lamaitre's "primeval atom" sarcastically as "this big bang idea" during a program broadcast on March 28, 1949 on the BBC. Hoyle said this because it contradicted his own steady state theory, which postulated that matter was continually being created as the universe expanded in accordance with Edwin Hubble's measurements.

Mather's and Smoot's Nobel Prize is the second one given for observations of the of the fossil remnant of the primordial space-time explosion "in the beginning." Radio astronomers Penzias and Wilson were awarded the first Prize in 1978 for discovering it in 1964. The cosmic microwave background noise or whisper comes from every direction of the cosmos This rustling whisper is evident to us today as we tune between television and radio stations. Penzias and Wilson did not understand its origin at first and tried to eliminate it by removing the "white dielectric substance," which had been deposited on their radio horn by pigeons. However, though the scientific grapevine they learned about Prof. Robert Dicke's Hot-to-Cool Cosmology (HCC) at Princeton University. He independently predicted, as had George Gamow in 1948, that Lamaitre's hot "primeval atom" should have cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero (273 degrees below zero Centigrade) as it expanded to form the present universe.

Fred Hoyle's continuous creation or steady state theory can not explain the microwave background radiation or cosmic whisper, which has cooled from the expansion of a hot "primeval atom" (HCC). Yet the term big bang still persists. Big bang makes no physical sense, as there was no matter (or space) needed to carry the sound that Hoyle's term implies. The big bang is a hypothesis. There was no one there to observe it! Other hypotheses may be discovered that can predict the observed Whispering Cosmos as well as the nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy that still challenges physicists.

How can conservatives be faulted for rejecting the imprecise big-bang metaphor? I believe the Whispering Cosmos is more accurate, eternal, and beautiful. It is consonant with Astronomer Mario Livio's aesthetic cosmic principle (2). Since scientific theories express the harmonies found in nature, the theories themselves should be aesthetic. The Whispering Universe is cooler cosmology than the big bang.


(1) Carr, Paul H. 2006. "From the 'Music of the Spheres' to the 'Whispering Cosmos.'" Chapter 3 of Beauty in Science and Spirit. Beech River Books. Center Ossipee, NH

  1. Livio, Mario. 2000. The Accelerating Universe : Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos. New York, John Wiley & Sons