Friday, August 28, 2015

August 28, 2015--Friday at the Bristol Diner: The Universe In a Suitcase

"Look," Al said, "I really don't know what I'm talking about but--"

"That never stopped you," Ken said half under his breath.

"Touché," Al said, "But someone who knows about cosmology told me the other day that before the Big Bang, if you were around and strong enough, you could have carried around in a suitcase, a small one, everything that after the Big Bang became the universe."

He paused to let that take effect. "And my friend meant everything--all the stuff needed to form atoms and molecules from subatomic particles like protons and neutrons and quarks and also all that was needed, when things cooled down and coalesced, to create billions and billions of suns and solar systems and black holes that are now swirling about out there 13, 14 billion years later."

"Actually," I said, "It's even more amazing than that."

"How could anything be more amazing?" Ken asked. "I mean was everything, everything compressed enough to fit in a carry-on bag? Is that true? If so, that's amazing enough for me. Of course that's if Al knows what he's talking about." Ken tends to be skeptical about everything. Especially anything coming from Al

"But what do you mean?" Ken asked, turning to me.

"I mean, from things I've read, all the energy and ultimate mass that constitutes the universe, including the earth and us, was so densely compressed that it was the size of a subatomic particle. Which, to say the least, was infinitesimally small."

Now Ken was staring at me. "I'm not making this up," I shrugged, "Just passing along what I read."

"So forget the suitcase," Ken said, "You mean everything could have fit in a thimble?"

"The smallest one imaginable," smiling, I said to Ken.

"What's more," Al said, wanting to again take control of the discussion, "No matter the size--suitcase, thimble--some theorists say there's evidence that our universe is not unique. That it's not the first one to have existed."

"I once heard something like that," Ken said, now getting into it. "On Nova or somewhere."

"That the previous universe more than 14 billion years ago collapsed into the largest mother black hole ever and that when it got to the size of that subatomic particle Steve mentioned, it re-exploded. And so here we are, maybe again, sitin' in the Bristol Diner havin' coffee."

"What's this again business?" Ken picked up that Al had emphasized that.

"Think about it," Al said, "Not that I'm a Hindu mystic or anything, but if those scientists are right about a succession of universes, one universal black hole after another, what they call the Big Crunch, followed by one Big Bang after another, it could be, considering how complicated and strange all of this is, that we may have been here, say, 28 billion years ago or 42 billion years ago. In the same booth, drinking the same godforsaken coffee."

"You know, Al," Ken said, "Once in awhile you manage to come up with something interesting to think about."

All acted all humble. Not his usual demeanor. "So that means you'll be paying for my coffee?" He roared with laughter so hearty that it felt as if it stretched across all of time.

I reached out to slide Al's check across the table to where Rona and I were sitting. She already had the money out to pay it.

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