FROM THE “BIG BANG” TO PROTONS, NEUTRONS AND ELECTRONS—PARTICLE PHYSICS

Blog by Sr. Pat Connick, OP

BEGINNING PONDERINGS:

Beginnings can be rough, and the start of the Big Bang is a reminder of that:

  • Have you ever been so “hot” (angry) that you can’t see straight? Calming down can make a big difference and allow things to literally settle, right?  There is an interesting parallel with the production of the fundamental particles and subsequent generations of matter from itself…
  • Similarly, have you ever felt “crowded” in a space, or backed into a corner? Again, if you can get a little space (a.k.a. experience a little expansion), things won’t seem so dense and jumbled.  Matter needed space to come emerge from energy and organize itself into more complex structures!
  • Yes, the order of matter came in stages. With particle physics, the building blocks did come together, creating exciting possibilities along the way, provided there was enough space and relative calmness (in terms of temperature)!
  • Reflect on how your unbridled anger has prevented your consideration of community!

 

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE PONDERINGS:

FROM THE “BIG BANG” TO FUNDAMENTAL PARTICLES—PARTICLE PHYSICS I

https://3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net/newman/gfx/news/hires/2017/5970d3cba1db6.jpg

In the 1920’s scientists were working out the implications of Einstein’s work on general relativity from the previous decade.  In 1929, Edwin Hubble, an American astronomer, observed the light from newly-discovered galaxies and discovered it was red-shifted, that is to say, the observed energies were less than expected, shifted towards the relatively lower energy red and away from the higher energy violet light. (This is essentially a light-version of the more familiar Doppler effect associated with sound.  Think of a passing ambulance who siren sounds higher-pitched as it approaches you and then lower-pitched after it passes and is receding away from you.)  These observations are consistent with an expanding universe, which Belgian astronomer and mathematical (theoretical) physicist George Lemaître had proposed in the year 1927 when he obtained his Ph.D. from MIT. (Independent parallel work was done by the Russian mathematican Alexandr Friedman around 1922.) Einstein was cautious about the consequences proposed from these works.

A few years later Lemaître proposed his “hypothesis of a primordial atom” as he began to consider the consequences of reversing the timeline to ask, “What might cause an expanding universe?” Today we know this idea popularly as the “Big Bang” theory, originally a disparaging name given by an early critic of Lemaître’s theory, fellow astronomer Fred Hoyle.

In the beginning according to science was the “Big Bang.”  Now this idea may sound like it is against or opposes theology, but I can assure you it does not.  Did you know that George Lemaître was also a Jesuit priest, who saw no conflict between science and religion?

The beginning of the Big Bang was necessarily hot.  Consider all the known energy (and future matter) of the universe confined to an extremely small space.  We don’t know what the very beginning was like, but we can work out what probably happened once things started.  The production of fundamental (a.k.a. elementary) particles happened in the first millionth of one second as the universe cooled down to 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000 = 1012) Kelvin (K).

Reader’s Note:  Based on our current though necessarily incomplete understanding, there are two types of fundamental, or elementary, particles in physics: fermions, associated with matter itself, and bosons, associated with the interactions between matter.  These later particles are associated with the more familiar gravitational and electromagnetic forces, and the perhaps less familiar strong and weak nuclear forces.  The Higgs boson is related to the idea of mass…

http://palaeos.com/cosmos/primordial/images/birth_of_Universe.jpg

  • Planck Epoch: At the start all 4 forces (gravity, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear) are assumed to be combined by the yet unconfirmed supergravity theory. The initial temperature was around 1032  There was only energy and no matter yet.
  • Grand Unification Epoch: At 10-43 s, gravity split off from the other three forces, making the Grand Unified Force and gravitons.  The universe was still unbelievably hot, 1029
  • Inflationary Epoch: At 10-36 s, as the initial temperature dropped to only 1028 K, a second fundamental force, the strong nuclear force, separated from the others, leaving the only electroweak force in a unified state.  Consequently, from 10-33 s to 10-32 s, the known universe expanded, by a factor of 1026 (!), to the size of a grapefruit.  The first particles, quarks and leptons were produced at this time. Remember E = mc2.
  • Electroweak Epoch: At 10-12 s, as the electroweak force split in the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces, it made numerous W and Z bosons and Higgs bosons, mediating the weak nuclear force and mass, respectively. The fundamental particles were a plasma of independent quarks in a sea of gluons which was distributed through the “grapefruit” universe. Leptons split into electrons/positrons and neutrino/anti-neutrinos at this time.  Temperature: 1014
  • Quark Epoch: Shortly after the electroweak epoch until 10-6 s, that is in most of latter part of the first millionth of a second, two types of leptons, electrons and neutrinos, were formed as the temperature continued to decrease to around 1012  At this relatively cooler temperature, the electromagnetic and weak forces finally separated forming now a total of four separate forces.  The energies are still too high for the quarks to combine into hadrons like protons and neutrons.
  • By the end of the first millionth of a second, there were
    • 24 types of fermions
      • six are called quarks: up and down, charm and strange, top and bottom.
      • six are called leptons: the electron and its neutrino, the muon and its neutrino, and the tau and its neutrino.
      • six more are anti-quarks.
      • the last six are anti-leptons.
    • 4 types of gauge bosons associated with each of the forces in the universe
      • (The graviton associated with gravity is proposed but is yet to be found.)
      • gluons (strong nuclear force)
      • W bosons and Z bosons (weak nuclear force)
      • photon (electromagnetic force)
    • and 1 scalar boson, connected to the concept of mass

You Big Bang of glorious energy, bless the Lord,
Particles and antiparticles, bless the Lord,
Quarks and leptons, bless the Lord
Bosons associated with the four fundamental forces, bless the Lord,
Praise and exult God forever!

FROM FUNDAMENTAL PARTICLES TO PROTONS AND NEUTRONS—PARTICLE PHYSICS II

The electron, the third part of an atom, is also a fermion, but not of the quark type.  It is from a family called leptons which differ from quarks in that leptons do not interact with the strong nuclear force the way fermions do.  To date, quarks and leptons are the smallest particles of which we are aware.

TIMELINE AFTER THE BIG BANG

https://phys.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/University_Physics/Book%3A_University_Physics_(OpenStax)/Map%3A_University_Physics_III_-_Optics_and_Modern_Physics_(OpenStax)/11%3A_Particle_Physics_and_Cosmology/11.7%3A_Evolution_of_the_Early_Universe

We continue with our timeline of the early universe from the end of the millionth of a second to 380,000 years!

  • Hadron Epoch: In the remaining time before the first second had elapsed, as the universe cooled to a mere 1010 Kelvin, quarks began to combine into hadrons.  These include the proton (2 up quarks & 1 down quark) and the neutron (1 up quark & 2 down quarks).  This is an instance showing the power of community on the smallest known scale of matter of which we are currently aware.  Neutrinos were formed when protons were hit with electrons forming neutrons; some of these neutrons and neutrinos reverted again to electrons and protons.  These hadrons and antihadrons annihilated each other to a great degree, leaving only a slight excess of hadrons (matter) over antihadrons (antimatter).
  • The limit of energy currently attainable by the Large Hadron Collider leads us to believe that quarks are fundamental particles in our own time only, mainly because at this time we cannot create temperatures higher than this within particle accelerators! We believe this is the reason the quarks of quark-based fermions have never been observed separately from the fermions of which they are a part.
  • Lepton Epoch: Now just after l second as the universe cooled down to just 109 Kelvin, leptons and antileptons dominated the universe.  Leptons and anti-leptons took up to 200x longer (until about 3 minutes) to annihilate one another, leaving again a slight excess of leptons (matter) over antileptons (antimatter).  Specifically, as electrons and positrons (antielectrons) collided and annihilated each other, photons were created and vice versa.
  • Big Bang Nucleosynthesis: Now that the stage was cleared a bit and as cooling continued down to 107 Kelvin allowing the strong nuclear force to take hold, protons and neutrons were finally able to form simple nuclei (no atoms with electrons), from 3 to 20 minutes:
    • [Protons by themselves make up hydrogen-1. This is not a “combination” nucleus like the others that follow.]
    • Deuterium, hydrogen-2, a combination of 1 proton and 1 neutron, the simplest “combination” nucleus
    • Helium-3, a combination of 2 protons and 1 neutron.
    • Helium-4, a combination of 2 protons and 2 neutrons.
    • Lithium-7, a combination of 2 protons and 4 neutrons.
  • Until about 380,000 years from the Big Bang, expansion and cooling continued to just above 4000 K, the universe now consisted of
    • atomic nuclei: roughly 75% hydrogen-1. The fusion reactions made most of the remaining 25% as helium-4.  Much smaller amounts, on the order of 0.01% were made of deuterium and helium-3.  A smaller amount of lithium was also made.
    • free electrons, unbound to nuclei.
    • energy, in the form of photons.

Protons and neutrons, bless the Lord,
Atomic nuclei, bless the Lord,
Free electrons, bless the Lord,
Photons of energy, bless the Lord,
Praise and exult God above all forever! 

REFERENCES—Timeline of the Big Bang:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdPzOWlLrbE  National Geographic Video

www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_bigbang_timeline.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_the_universe

https://science.howstuffworks.com/dictionary/astronomy-terms/big-bang-theory4.htm

https://web.njit.edu/~gary/202/Lecture26.html

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang_nucleosynthesis

Posted in News, Wednesday's Word

4 responses to “FROM THE “BIG BANG” TO PROTONS, NEUTRONS AND ELECTRONS—PARTICLE PHYSICS

  1. Dear Pat,
    This is terrific! What a tremendous update on cosmology for a retired physics and chemistry teacher! I will examine this minutely with joy and admiration for your research and in prayer and with exultation and gratitude to Our God Who created it all – and yet who stoops to humanity as His chosen ones.

  2. Interesting, Pat. Thanks for your research. Amazing how much happened so quickly and how slowly things are happening now. God is indeed a mastermind ordering everything so carefully.

  3. Thank you, Sr. Pat for taking the time to give us all this
    Information. It boggles the mind and it is so awesome!
    So much I don’t understand yet the working of the universe unfolding is so wonder-filled. I want to make a deep bow to our Creator.

    Blessings on you and your ministry,
    Sr. Brigid

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