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There is no centre to the universe

26 March 2019

In the beginning there was nothing. No matter, no time, no universe.

Then (as best we can tell) there was a big bang and the universe, with all its energy and matter, sprung into existence in the blink of an eye.

Simple stuff eh?

Well not quite.

If the universe did start with a big bang and, as we've observed since, continues to expand, why isn't there a void in the centre of it?

If you have an explosion then all the "bits" get thrown out from that central point, flying away and leaving little or nothing behind. So why don't we have a region of space at the centre of the known universe that has nothing in it... or at least a significantly lower amount of matter?

This is something I was wondering the other day, so I did some research and the answer to this question is rather fascinating.

The first problem is that "the big bang" wasn't an explosion in the conventional sense.

If we think of a stick of dynamite being detonated whilst sitting in free space then we imagine all the resulting matter being thrown out into that space -- but this is not how the "big" bang worked at all.

The problem is that before the big bang, there was no space at all.

The big bang was more than the propulsion of matter into a void -- it was the creation of that void and indeed, the creation of time itself.

Prior to the big-bang there was no super-dense mass waiting to explode and reality, as we perceive it, simply did not exist.

This is perhaps the single hardest concept to get your head around. How can one imagine the unimaginable?

However, in the time immediately after the big bang, every atom of matter and every joule of energy in the known universe suddenly came into existence. The presence of all this stuff created the universe as we know it and the very fabric of time and space.

If we look around us, *every* single part of the universe appears to be traveling away from us as the universe expands. This would lead one to believe that *we* are right smack at the centre of the universe, but we're not, that is merely an illusion.

The problem with our perception is that the very fabric of time and space is expanding. Galaxies are moving away from each other because the space between them is being stretched.

The best analogy I found was to liken the universe to a balloon. Inflate the balloon slightly and draw some dots on it. Now slowly continue inflating the balloon and imagine its surface to be a 2 dimensional analog of 3 dimensional space. As it grows, all the dots will appear to be moving away from each other -- but without any central point from which they all move equally. There is no centre to this expansion -- and that's how it is with the universe in the post big bang era.

Perhaps a good way to further draw an analogy is that the expansion of the balloon represents time itself. Growth in the diameter of the balloon represents the passage of time. As time passes, the entire universe expands without an apparent centre-point.


While I was contemplating this analogy and the paradox of an explosion without a centre-point, I also wondered if the time element might explain the conundrum of why the rate of expansion is increasing rather than either remaining constant or even decreasing due to the gravitational effects of all that mass.

No doubt someone else has already come up with this idea but I found no reference to it in my searches so who knows...

Harking back to the column I wrote last week in which the passage of time was compared to the recording rate (in frames per second), I can't help but wonder if maybe the rate of expansion of the universe is not actually increasing at all -- but perhaps it is simply that time is slowing as the universe ages.

Velocity (aka speed) is simply distance over time. Something will appear to be moving faster if it travels a greater distance in a given period of time -- OR... it will appear to be moving faster if it covers the same amount of distance in a shorter amount of time. Perhaps our mistake in failing to understand how the expansion of the universe can be happening is to consider time as an immutable constant. Einstein proved that this was a fallacy so perhaps what we're seeing is that time itself is gradually slowing. If time does slow then a body in motion will cover more distance in a given unit of that time - making it appear to move more quickly than it actually is.

So maybe what we are observing is not the expansion rate of the universe increasing but a gradual change in the pace of time as the universe expands. Perhaps time itself is being diluted by the expansion of the universe?

The universe came into existence in an instant of time so perhaps, if time is slowing, it may also cease to exist in what will also appear to be an instant of time -- because time slows to such a point that, at some stage in the very distant future, everything appears to happen at once.

I'd love to hear readers feedback on this. I'm sure someone will say "already been suggested" but that's good because "great minds think alike" :-)

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