CHange The Game



COOKING UP A COSMOS
Will our descendants create a universe in a laboratory?
YOU DON\'T HAVE TO BE A MASTER CHEF TO MAKE meringue. Simply combine egg whites and sugar in a large bowl and beat vigorously until the mixture is light and fluffy. Spread in a pan and put in an oven preheated to 300 degrees F. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes and voile! Could it be just as easy to make a universe?
Since the big bang theory implies that the entire observed universe can evolve from a tiny speck, it\'s tempting to ask whether a universe can in principle be created in a laboratory. Given what we know of the laws of physics, would it be possible for an extraordinarily advanced civilization to create new universes at will?
The first thing to think about is the list of necessary ingredients. Curiously, scientific theories continue to offer an enormous range of answers to the question of what the universe was made from. One of the most dramatic differences between the standard big bang theory (without inflation) and the inflationary universe theory is the answer that each gives to this fundamental question.
If the recipe for the standard big bang universe were written in a Cosmic Cookbook, how would it read? To begin the universe at an age of one second, the ingredient list would include 10[sup 89] photons, 10[sup 89] electrons, 10[sup 89] positrons, 10[sup 89] neutrinos, 10[sup 89] antineutrinos, 10[sup 79] protons, and 10[sup 79] neutrons. The ingredients should be stirred vigorously to produce a uniform batter, which should then be heated to a temperature of 10[sup 10] kelvins. After heating, the total mass/energy of the mix would be about 10[sup 65] grams, or 10[sup 32] solar masses. This number, by the way, is about 10 billion times larger than the total mass in the visible universe today. So, to produce a universe by the standard big-bang description, one must start with the energy of 10 billion universes! Since a chefs first task is to assemble the ingredients, this recipe looks formidable enough to discourage anybody.
The Cosmic Cookbook entry for an inflationary universe, on the other hand, looks as simple as meringue. In this case, the natural starting time would be the onset of inflation -- just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang. In contrast to the standard big bang recipe, the inflationary version calls for only a single ingredient: a region of false vacuum (see "The False Vacuum," page 56). And the region need not be very large. A patch of false vacuum 10-26 centimeter across might be all the recipe demands. While the mass required for the previous recipe was 1032 solar masses, the mass in this case is only an ounce: about the mass of a slice of bread. So, in the inflationary theory the universe evolves from essentially nothing at all, which is why I frequently refer to it as the ultimate free lunch.
Does this mean that the laws of physics truly enable us to create a new universe at will? If we tried to carry out this recipe, unfortunately, we would immediately encounter an annoying snag: Because a sphere of false vacuum 10[sup -26] centimeter across has a mass of one ounce, its density is a phenomenal 10[sup 80] grams per cubic centimeter. For comparison, the density of water is 1 gram per cubic centimeter, and even the density of an atomic nucleus is only 10[sup 15] grams per cubic centimeter. If the mass of the entire observed universe were compressed to false-vacuum density, it would fit in a volume smaller than an atom.
The mass density of a false vacuum is not only beyond the range of present technology, it is beyond the range of any conceivable technology. As a practical matter, therefore, I would not recommend buying stock in a company that intends to market do-it-yourself universe kits. Nevertheless, I will dismiss the gargantuan mass density of the false vacuum as a mere engineering problem, boldly assuming that some civilization in the distant, unforeseeable future will be capable of creating such densities. Is it possible, given what we know of the laws of physics, that someday our descendants might produce