Cosmic 'hotspots' may be evidence of a universe that existed before ours

Cosmic 'hotspots' may be evidence of a universe that existed before ours

- in Science
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Scientists agree that the story of the universe began 13.8 billion years ago, when everything — all the matter and energy and even space itself — emerged from the extraordinarily hot, dense cauldron known as the Big Bang.

But ask a scientist what came before that first moment, and you’re likely to get a shrug. To many, thinking about a time before the beginning of time makes no sense.

Roger Penrose isn’t one of them. For more than a decade, the University of Oxford physicist has been honing his theory that the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe but merely a single stage in an eternal cycle of creation and recreation. And now he claims he has the evidence to back it up.

In a new paper posted to the preprint library arXiv, Penrose and two collaborators report that they’ve identified strange hotspots of energy in the sky, located at the edge of the observable universe. Standard cosmology doesn’t predict these features. Cyclic cosmology does.

“I originally put this model out there as an outrageous scheme, a crazy scheme,” Penrose confesses — and some of his colleagues readily agree with that assessment. “I am highly skeptical of cyclic cosmologies no matter what flavor they come in,” Caltech physicist Sean Carroll said in a blog post, reflecting a common sentiment.

Penrose points to the sky itself as his rebuttal. If he’s right, the cosmic hotspots are relics of a universe that existed before our own. That would utterly change the way we think about the universe’s origins and ultimate fate. “In cyclic cosmology,” he says, “there is no beginning, and nothing is lost.”

From one cosmos to the next

When Penrose calls his ideas outrageous, he isn’t kidding. According to his “conformal cyclic cosmology” model, we’re in the early stages of a grand cosmic era, or aeon. The universe will continue to expand at an accelerating pace for hundreds of billions of years, or perhaps a great deal longer — certainly long after Earth is dead and gone.

In that far-off future, the universe will have expanded so much that space will be nearly empty, dominated almost entirely by energy and radiation rather than matter. At that point, Penrose argues, “mass” as a property of matter will fade away. The widely scattered particles that remain will become massless ghosts, leaving the universe with no recognizable structure.

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