Cynthia Hatch The Evolution of Astronomy and Cosmology In modern science we create theories in order to better understand the

world. These theories are based on observation, can be mathematically modeled, and must coincide with other theories, but the process does not end there.1 Science inherently seeks for truth, thus a theory must be tested as to ascertain whether or not the theory truly explains and describes nature. If the theory does not hold up to testing, then a new theory is sought out; if the theory holds it is kept for more testing.¹ This process of falsification has been imbedded throughout the history of science and science today still follows this process. One example of this process can be found in the history and development of the Big Bang Theory. The first cosmology of man was that of creationism. This belief system is still common today, even among scientists, but this is a distinctly unscientific approach to the creation of the universe. That is not to say that the theory is invalid, but it lacks physical evidence and cannot be tested. Creationism is one theory for the creation of the universe, but will not be discussed in this paper due to the fact that it does not fit into the scientific model. The first scientific cosmology of the universe that we have record of was that of Aristotle. He taught that the universe was separated into perfect spheres and that the earth was at its center of these spheres. He also taught that the universe had no beginning and no end.2 This ideal, unchanging universe remained the basis for cosmology for centuries and was even incorporated into the Christian religion. Over the years, astronomers and astrologers developed many mathematical models to predict the movement of this spherical universe. One of which was

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Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

Ptolemy’s system, which consisted of superimposed epicycles.1 Despite its mathematical complexity Ptolemy’s system was still used for decades because of its ability to predict the motion of the planets. The problem was that the model made some predictions that did not fit the observations of the astronomers. An example being that the moon would be twice its size when it was closest to the earth. However, these discrepancies were over looked. It was not until the work of Nicolas Copernicus that the idea of an earth centered solar system was called into question. In his work, Copernicus set the sun at the center of the universe and modeled depicted the motion of the planets with ellipsis.2 This system was better able to model the motion of the planets and it made other predictions that could be observed and tested. Copernicus’ model was viewed as little more than a mathematical model until the late renaissance, after other astronomers found supporting evidence for his theory. The super nova in 1572 observed by Tycho Brahe, gave physical evidence that the heavens were not perfect and unchanging.3 This was later supported by Galileo Galilei when, using the telescope invented by Hans Lippershey, he was able to observe the surface of the moon, comets, and four of Jupiter’s satellites.4 Furthermore, some of Galileo’s other research showed two objects of different masses falling at the same rate which falsified Aristotle’s theory on the movement of objects.³ Both Brahe’s and Galileo’s works contributed to the falsification of the Aristotelian model of the universe. These observations would also help lead Isaac Newton to create a new model of the universe. Newton’s work on gravity and motion was the start of a new theory on the motion of the universe. Newton established that all objects that have a mass have a gravitational pull on all

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Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time 3 Charles Seife, Alpha and Omega 4 James Reston Jr., Galileo: A Life

other objects with mass. The strength of the gravitational pull of an object is dependent on its mass; meaning the sun would have a significantly larger gravitational pull than the earth. This implied that the sun would be more likely to be at the center of the universe because of its size. In turn, this caused the Copernicus system became the more realistic scenario in comparison to the earth centered system. Newton’s theory better explained the movement of the universe and it coincided with other scientific theories. He also had the math to back his theory, thus gaining the support of the scientific community. The transition from the Aristotelian theory to the Newtonian theory did not answer all the questions scientists had about the universe. Science then faced a new problem. To the naked eye and weak telescopes the stars do not appear to move. Because of this Newton and later scientists conceived the Static State Theory. According to the laws of gravity and motion if the universe is finite, then the stars should “fall in” on each other because of their gravitational pull.1 However, this does not fit the observations, so Newton proposed an infinite universe with an infinite number of stars. The pull of infinite stars in infinite directions would keep the stars from gravitating towards one another.¹ For lack of a better theory, most scientists kept to this theory, even though it had flaws. One of the problems with the Static State Theory was that of balance. The stars were perfectly positioned to keep them in place, but if just one star shifted the balance would be lost and the stars would domino into each other.¹ Another problem that arose was that if the sky was filled with an infinite number of stars, why was the night sky not as bright as the sky during the day? This question led to the assumption that the light from the stars they couldn’t see was being obstructed by other matter.¹ The reply to this assumption was that over time the matter would heat up and become just as bright as the stars. Scientists searched for another answer. The result

Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

was that the light from those distance stars had not had time to reach earth, or enough time to heat the intermediate matter.¹ It was around this time that the question of when the universe began was first asked by the scientific community. The debate over the beginning of the universe began, but one question seemed to stand in the way: was the universe infinite or finite? With telescopes being made with higher magnification, scientists began to discover “smudges” in their sights. Were these just clouds of gas, or far away galaxies just like ours? With these questions, scientists set out to determine the size of the universe. The most notable debate was between Harlow Sharpley and Heber Curtis at the Academy of Science in 1920.1 One argued for an infinite universe, the other for a finite universe. The debate was inconclusive, neither had enough data to support their separate theories. The question would remain unanswered until Edwin Hubble began working at the Mt. Wilson observatory.2 To measure the distance between two objects, most people use a standard measuring device, something we know the length or size of. If we are far from an object we can tell how far by comparing its size to that of our measuring tool. Unfortunately, a standard for measuring space was not to be found during Hubble’s time. Instead Hubble was able to use what is known as a Cepheid variable.¹ Cepheid variables are stars that have an intensity that pulsates at regular intervals. By calculating the cycle of these intervals, one could determine the intensity of the star at its peak and use that intensity to find how far away a star was. Hubble used this very method when he took a picture of the Andromeda galaxy in 1923.² He found that Andromeda had a Cepheid variable and used it to calculate the distance between the galaxy and earth.¹ The distance turned out to be hundreds of light years away, far longer than

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Charles Seife, Alpha and Omega Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

had been expected. This led scientists to conclude that the universe is infinite, but Hubble’s job was not yet done. Later, in 1929, Hubble used spectroscopy to make another great discovery, that the stars and galaxies were moving.¹ Spectroscopy is a method that chemists use to find out what chemicals are present in a substance. Atoms give off photons as their electrons move from one electron shell to another.1 Running electricity through and element can cause the emission of these photons. Using a prism, a light splitter, or a spectrometer, one can see the spectrum of colors emitted by the element, and each element has its own spectral signature.³ Hubble was using a spectroscope on the light from stars when he noticed something different about the spectral lines he received, they were almost the same as the spectral signature of the basic elements, except slightly shifted towards the red end of the spectrum.2 There is another case where the frequency of a wave is shifted, and that is with the sound of moving objects. As an object approaches you, the sound you hear is higher pitch than the actual sound it is making, and a lower pitch as it moves away from you. The same happens with light when its source is traveling at higher velocities. If the light is moving away from you, it will be slightly redder than its actual color, and as it comes towards you, it will be slightly bluer. Hubble discovered that all the stars and galaxies were moving away from us, at incredibly high speeds, showing that the universe is expanding. These discoveries led directly to the Big Bang Theory.¹ The Big Bang Theory, simply put, says that the universe started as an infinitely small, infinitely massive clump, before it exploded. The first moments of this explosion go beyond our knowledge of science, but theories have been made concerning the first few seconds and the

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Raymond Serway, Modern Physics 3 edition Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang


subsequent millions of years to follow.1 Over the years the Big Bang has been tested, and has survived. Now the majority of scientists believe the Big Bang Theory holds the answers to the origin of the universe, though some scientists believe otherwise. Alternate theories to the Big Bang are not uncommon. One that has been proposed is that of tired light.2 Some have suggested that over time light traveling form stars loses energy or runs into other objects, scattering the light, thus causing the red shift. This theory does not hold up well, because we do not observe any extra scattering of the light from stars in spectroscopy.³ Some other alternate theories have also been proposed. For example, the theory of antigalaxies and galaxies says that the universe started as a cloud of matter and antimatter that collided together and exploded into the expanding universe we have today.3 The issue with this theory is that it suggests there should be interaction between matter and antimatter that we do not observe. Another is that of the shrinking universe, this theory states that over time nuclei would grow in mass, but the electrostatic force would remain the same, causing the electrons to orbit closer and closer to the nucleus.¹ This would cause the size of the atom to shrink, and thus the universe as well. This theory on the other hand, cannot be tested because it has the exact same observational results as the Big Bang Theory.¹ Other alternate theories exist as well, but lack even more evidence than those already put forth. Thus, the Big Bang Theory still stands as the accepted model for the universe. This shows how the scientific method was used over the centuries in astronomy. Scientists developing models of the universe, testing them, and, when shown that their theories are false, creating a new one to better describe what we see; leading towards truth and understanding for mankind.
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Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time Joseph Silk, The Big Bang 3 Joseph Silk, The Big Bang

References 1. Charles Seife, Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning of the Universe, Viking, 2003 2. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, Bantan Books, 1996 3. Joseph Silk, The Big Bang, W.H. Freeman and Company, 1996 4. Timothy Ferris, The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report, Simon and Schuster, 1997 5. Raymond Serway, Clement Moses, Curt Mayer, Modern Physics, 3rd edition, Baba Barkha Nath, 2005 6. Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development if Western Thought, Ninth Printing, 1977 7. James Reston Jr., Galileo: A Life, Harper Collins Publisher, 1994