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Beginning of tThe beginning of the world from the point of view of quantum theoryRatings:

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This is an editorial note to accompany reprinting as a Golden Oldie in the Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation of the famous note by Georges Lemaitre on the quantum birth of the universe, published in Nature in 1931. We explain why this short (457 words) article can be considered to be the true Charter of the modern Big Bang theory

This is an editorial note to accompany reprinting as a Golden Oldie in the Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation of the famous note by Georges Lemaitre on the quantum birth of the universe, published in Nature in 1931. We explain why this short (457 words) article can be considered to be the true Charter of the modern Big Bang theory

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03/11/2014

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Editorial note to “The beginning of the world from the point of view of quantum theory”

Jean-Pierre Luminet, Laboratoire Univers et Th´eoriesObservatoire de Paris-CNRS- Universit´e Paris Diderot (France)email : jean-pierre.luminet@obspm.frJune 1, 2011

Abstract

This is an editorial note to accompany reprinting as a Golden Oldie in the

Journal of General Relativity and Gravitation

of the famous note by Georges Lemaˆıtre on the quantum birth of the universe, publishedin

Nature

in 1931

. We explain why this short (457 words) article can be considered to be the true“Charter” of the modern Big Bang theory

The year 1931 can undoubtedly be called Georges Lemaˆıtre’s

annus mirabilis

. Indeed, major contributionsto relativistic cosmology by the Belgian physicist and priest appeared within a few months:a)

A homogeneous universe of constant mass and increasing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extra-galactic nebulae

[1] in the March 7 issue of the

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

, asan English translation of the article published four years earlier in French [2], in which Lemaˆıtre was the ﬁrstto interpret the astronomical data about the galaxy redshifts by a positively curved space model in whichthe universe slowly expanded from an equilibrium Einstein state at

t

=

−∞

,b)

The expanding universe

[3]

, just following the previous one in the same

M.N.R.A.S.

issue, in whichLemaˆıtre calculated that the expansion of space could be induced by a preceding phase of “stagnation”taking place about 10

10

years in the past,c) The short note

The beginning of the world from the point of view of quantum theory

, published in theMarch 21 issue of

Nature

and reproduced here as a Golden Oldie

,d)

Contribution to a discussion about “The question of the relation of the physical universe to life and mind”

[5], published in the October 24 issue of

Supplement to Nature

, in which Lemaˆıtre advocated an abruptbeginning of the universe from an initial, superdense concentration of nuclear matter called the “primevalatom”,e)

L’expansion de l’espace

[6], a quantitative account of c) and d) published in French

in the November20 issue of a Belgian scientiﬁc journal, where the author developed his major cosmological ideas about theprimeval atom hypothesis in an extraordinary literary style,and, since Lemaˆıtre was also fascinated by the brand new theory of quantum mechanics, one should notforget to mentionf)

L’ind´etermination de la loi de Coulomb

[8] in the August 8 issue of the

Annales de la Soci´et´e Scien-tiﬁque de Bruxelles

, in which he applied Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to the Coulomb law, and

1

2

That republication will take place later this year in

Gen. Rel. Grav.

3

Not to be confused with

L’Univers en expansion

, reproduced as a Golden Oldie as

The expanding Universe

[4].

4

Due to its potential public impact and its non-technical character, the note was reprinted almost

in extenso

in the

New York Times

issue of May 19, 1931.

5

An English translation was published later in [7].

6

Indeterminacy of Coulomb law.

1

a r X i v : 1 1 0 5 . 6 2 7 1 v 1 [ p h y s i c s . h i s t - p h ] 3 1 M a y 2 0 1 1

g)

Sur l’interpr´etation d’Eddington de l’´equation de Dirac

[9], in the same issue, in which he investigatedthe mathematical structure of quantum electrodynamics by using the formalism of quaternions.In the middle of this string of pearls, the smallest (457 words) but the brightest contribution c) can beconsidered to be the true “Charter” of the modern Big Bang theory. To understand why, it must be explainedand enlightened by a larger

corpus

of cosmological papers by Lemaˆıtre and other leading cosmologists of the time during the crucial years 1930-1932. That is the reason why the present editorial note, althoughdevoted to a single-page article, will take unusual proportions. It can also be seen as a celebration of the80th anniversary of Georges Lemaˆıtre’s momentous ideas about the birth and evolution of our universe.

Recession of galaxies and expanding universe

Contrary to Friedmann (whose cosmological works were republished as a Golden Oldie, see [10]), whocame to astronomy only in 1921 – 1922, that is to say three years before his premature death only, Lemaˆıtrewas closely related to astronomy all his life. He always felt the absolute need for confronting the observationalfacts and the general relativity theory (adding considerations from quantum mechanics). He was, for example,much more aware than most of his contemporaries of the experimental status of relativity theory, and thatas early as in his years of training [11]. Lemaˆıtre was no less a remarkable mathematician, in the domain of fundamental mathematics (see his works on the quaternions or St¨ormer’s problem) as well as in numericalanalysis.In short, the cosmological work of Lemaˆıtre was built in two phases. Initially, he found independently of Friedmann that the Einstein ﬁeld equations of general relativity admitted non-static cosmological solutions.At the same time, he took into account the observations on the recession velocity of galaxies, to which he gavea physical meaning by interpreting them as an experimental proof of an expanding space. In a next phase,Lemaˆıtre dared an even more provocative assumption, which was however partly a logical prolongation of the theory of the expanding universe: if the universe is today expanding, in the past it was much smallerand denser; one remote day, it was thus condensed into a “primeval atom”, whose successive fragmentationsdue to quantum processes made it such as it is now. Reviewed and improved during the following decades,Lemaˆıtre’s primeval atom hypothesis has become the standard Big Bang model. Let us now follow in moredetails the evolution of Lemaˆıtre’s cosmological insights.In his 1927 article

Un univers homog`ene de masse constante et de rayon croissant, rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des n´ebuleuses extragalactiques

[2], Lemaˆıtre calculated the exact solutions of Einstein’sequations by assuming a positively curved space (with elliptic topology), time varying matter density andpressure, and a non-zero cosmological constant. He obtained a model with perpetual accelerated expansion,in which he adjusted the value of the cosmological constant so that the radius of the hyperspherical space

R

(

t

) constantly increased from the radius of Einstein’s static hypersphere

R

E

at

t

=

−∞

. Therefore therewas no past singularity and no “age problem”. The great novelty was that Lemaˆıtre provided the ﬁrstinterpretation of cosmological redshifts in terms of space expansion, instead of a real motion of galaxies:space was constantly expanding and consequently increased the apparent separations between galaxies. Thisidea proved to be one of the most signiﬁcant discoveries of the century.Using the available astronomical data, Lemaˆıtre provided the explicit relation of proportionality betweenthe apparent recession velocity and the distance: “Utilisant les 42 n´ebuleuses extra-galactiques ﬁgurant dansles listes de Hubble et de Str¨omberg

, et tenant compte de la vitesse propre du Soleil, on trouve une distancemoyenne de 0,95 millions de parsecs et une vitesse radiale de 600 km/s, soit 625 km/s `a 10

6

parsecs. Nousadopterons donc

R

/R

=

v/rc

= 0

,

68

×

10

−

27

cm

−

1

(Eq. 24)”. Eq. 24 is exactly what would be called laterthe Hubble law.The signiﬁcance of Lemaˆıtre’s work remained unnoticed. Eddington, his former PhD mentor to whomLemaˆıtre had sent a copy, did not react. When Lemaˆıtre met Einstein for the ﬁrst time at the 1927 Solvay

7

On Eddington’s interpretation of Dirac’s equation.

8

Lemaˆıtre combined the redshifts published by Str¨omberg – who relied himself on redshifts published earlier by Slipher –and Hubble’ distances via magnitudes; in his book

The Mathematical Theory of Relativity

, Eddington had also published aredshift table, quoting data from Slipher who prepared that table for him; see [12] for all references.

2

Conference, the famous physicist made favorable technical remarks, but concluded by saying that “fromthe physical point of view, that appeared completely abominable” [13]. In 1929, Hubble [14] published newexperimental data on the spectral redshifts of extra-galactic nebulae, suggesting the linear velocity-distancerelation

v

=

Hr

with

H

= 600 km/s/Mpc. This law was strictly identical to Lemaˆıtre’s Eq.24, with the sameproportionality factor, but Hubble did not make the link with expanding universe models. In fact Hubblenever read Lemaˆıtre’s paper; he interpreted the galaxy redshifts as a pure Doppler eﬀect (due to a properradial velocity of galaxies), instead of as an eﬀect of space expansion.A new opportunity for the recognition of Lemaˆıtre’s model arose early in 1930. In January, in London, adiscussion between Eddington and De Sitter took place at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. Theydid not know how to interpret the data on the recession velocities of galaxies. Eddington suggested that theproblem could be due to the fact that only static models of the universe were hitherto considered, and calledfor new searches in order to explain the recession velocities in terms of dynamical space models. Having reada report of the meeting of London [15], Lemaˆıtre understood that Eddington and De Sitter posed a problemwhich he had solved three years earlier. He thus wrote to Eddington to point out his communication of 1927and requested him to transmit a copy to de Sitter. This time, Eddington, who had not read the paper atthe right time, made apologies and reacted. He sent the note to de Sitter, who answered very favorably ina letter to Lemaˆıtre, dated March 25, 1930.

On his side, Eddington reorganized his communication to the following meeting of the Royal AstronomicalSociety in May, to introduce Lemaˆıtre’s ideas on dynamical universes [17]. Then he published an importantarticle [18] in which he reexamined the Einstein static model and discovered that, like a pen balancedon its point, it was unstable: any slight disturbance in the equilibrium would start the increase of theradius of the hypersphere; then he adopted Lemaˆıtre’s model of the expanding universe – which will behenceforward referred to as the Eddington–Lemaˆıtre model – and calculated that the original size of theEinstein universe was about 1200 million light years, of the same order of magnitude as that estimated byLemaˆıtre. Interestingly enough, Eddington also considered the possibility of an initial universe with a mass

M

greater or smaller than the mass

M

E

of the Einstein model, but he rejected the two solutions, arguingthat, for

M > M

E

, “it seems to require a sudden and peculiar beginning of things”, whereas for

M < M

E

,“the date of the beginning of the universe is uncomfortably recent”.Next, Eddington carried out an English translation of the 1927 Lemaˆıtre article for publication in the

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

[1]. Here took place a curious episode: for an unexplainedreason, Eddington replaced the important paragraph quoted above (where Lemaˆıtre gave the relation of proportionality between the recession velocity and the distance) by a single sentence: “From a discussionof available data, we adopt

R

/R

= 0

,

68

×

10

−

27

cm

−

1

(Eq. 24)”. Thus, due to Eddington’s (deliberate?)blunder, Lemaˆıtre will never be recognized on the same footing as Edwin Hubble for being the discoverer of the expansion of the universe.Just following his translated article in the issue of

M.N.R.A.S.

, Lemaˆıtre published a technical paperentitled

The expanding universe

[3], also communicated by Eddington, in which he studied the mechanismof the initial expansion (see [19] for a detailed analysis). By dividing the Einstein universe into cells in whichmatter condensed toward the centre of the cell, Lemaˆıtre calculated that a diminution of the pressure on theedge of the cells would induce a global expansion of space. He interpreted such a diminution of the pressureas a diminution of the exchange of kinetic energy between distant parts of the universe; in other words, thekinetic energy would remain stagnant near the centre of the cells. Thus he introduced the phenomenon of “stagnation” as the cause of the expansion of the universe: “If, in a universe of equilibrium, the pressurebegins to vary, the radius of the universe varies in the opposite sense. Therefore, stagnation processes induceexpansion”. Another original idea of this article was to generalize the Birkhoﬀ theorem of general relativity todescribe the stagnation phenomenon within the framework of a homogeneously expanding universe. Lemaˆıtrevisualized the initial Einstein universe as something like the dilute primeval gas appearing in the Kant –Laplace nebular hypothesis. At the end of his paper, he considered the eﬀect of a sudden stagnation processin which the pressure dropped instantaneously to zero, and found that the epoch of the rupture of equilibriumwould have taken place some 10

10

to 10

11

years ago, depending on the ratio between the pressure and the

9

Reproduced in [16], pp.104 – 105.

3

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