Let’s say I’m writing a story about a time traveler who goes back to the beginning of the universe (actually, I really am writing a story like that). I’d need to know a lot about what the universe was like shortly after the big bang. This is a subject that science is a little uncertain about, which is perfect for a science fiction writer like me because I can make up whatever I want.
But I’ve discovered certain facts in my research that my story will have to address. For one thing, my time traveler needs to know the age of the universe. Otherwise how would he know what date to set in his time machine?
We know galaxies are traveling away from each other and that the universe is growing, and it appears to grow at a rate somewhere between 50 and 100 kilometers per second per Megaparsec (Pasachoff, 835). By inverting this constant rate, known as Hubble’s constant, scientists have calculated the age of the universe to be somewhere between 13 and 20 billion years. That’s a huge margin of error for my time traveler, but maybe he can find a more accurate measurement of Hubble’s constant and use that to determine the exact date of the big bang (I’m guessing it was a Tuesday).
Like any good vacation spot, the beginning of the universe is very hot, something like 10 octillion degrees Celsius. Also, the explosions caused by matter and anti-matter collisions should provide some entertainment, if you don’t mind high levels of radiation. As a science fiction writer, I’ll have to think of some amazing technology from the future to keep my time traveler alive so he can enjoy himself.
After a few seconds of cosmic inflation and the establishment of the various physical forces, subatomic particles will start joining together to form Hydrogen and Helium nuclei, but because of the intense heat they won’t be able to capture elections and form full atoms for a several hundred thousand years.
The biggest problem of all is that there’s nothing to do. The universe is tiny, and aside from the massive explosion itself, all the action is at a subatomic level. This may not sound like the most interesting setting for a story, but think of the consequences for my time traveler. One mistake, one small ripple in a cloud of super-hot Hydrogen, and the cosmos is changed forever. Many of the stars and galaxies we know and love today would be different or wouldn’t form at all.
“Big Bang.” Concise Dictionary of Science & Computers. NY: Random House, 2004. Page 69.
Jenkins, Alejandro and Gilad Perez. “Looking for Life in the Multiverse.” Scientific American January 2010. Pages 42-49.
Hawking, Steven W. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. NY: Bantam Books, 1998.
Pasachoff, Jay M. “Cosmology (Intorductory).” Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia Eighth Edition. Ed. Douglas M. Considine. NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995. Pages 834-837.