Friday, October 22, 2010

Are The Constants Really Constant

I use StumbleUpon ...a lot. It's a great way to kill time and to find random, sometimes nifty stuff out on the internet. Included in my StumbleUpon interests profile is "science". So, I frequently get pages about various physics, astronomy and other scientific postings (NASA's photo of the day rocks, by the way). At any rate, this morning, a page about astronomers viewing light from 13 billion years ago showing them the early times in the universe.

Now, this is kind of interesting. I mean, being able to see what the universe looked like 13 billion years ago and how it differed from today. Unfortunately, it always makes me wonder, "how is this even possible." Don't get me wrong: I get the basics of radio telescopes, visible light telescopes and the like. So, I get that they're able to see this shit with these really complex, expensive and sensitive tools. No what it is I don't get is that physicists tell us that the speed of light is the Universe's speed limit. Physical objects simply cannot exceed the speed of light. That as one approaches the speed of light, mass, essentially, becomes infinite (and a whole bunch of other stuff that only makes a very tenuous amount of sense). So, it confuses me how we could see light transmitted 13 billion years ago.

I mean, that light was transmitted from a distance of 13 billion light-years.That light has been speeding along for 13 billion years at the speed of light. If the Universe truly started as a infinitesimally small pinpoint of something and expanded from there, how did I, as a physical being sitting on a physical chunk of rock beat that light here? Having mass, I would assume that, according to what the scientists all say, in the space of 13 billion years, my chunk of matter can't possibly have traveled 13 billion light years from the Universe's origin point.

Ok, so, maybe the distance is additive. Perhaps, since the universe's beginning, where I am, now, is 3 billion light years from the Universal origin point. And, perhaps that light was, somehow, emitted something 10 billion light years from the universe's origin point, but 180° in the opposite direction of me (whatever that means in an N-dimensional Universe) - for a total travel distance of 13 billion light years. Now, I'm not going to ask how the light emitters got to be 10 billion light years away, since light is usually emitted by thing that have mass, but any way. Why ask for that to make sense any more than any of the other things do.

In my head, it seems to tell me that the numbers just don't add up. Either the speed of light isn't constant, that the speed of light isn't a hard-limit, or that the 13 billion year old light didn't take a direct path to get here (indeed, it'd have to have been pretty circuitous).

Meh... Makes my head spin. Probably makes their spin, too, but, they're all stoned out of their gourds, any way, so they can just go with it.

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