Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science: [] Atom in Modern Science - Application Of Nuclear Transformations - Nuclear Transformations In Nature - Origin of Universe

Published: 20.07.2007
Updated: 06.08.2008

Nuclear Transformations In Nature - Origin of Universe

[A Brief Histroy of Time by Stephen Hawking, pp, 117-121.]

There are many theories or models regarding the origin of universe. According to what is known as the "hot big bang model", which is the generally accepted one, the universe, at the time of origin, is thought to have had 'zero' size, and so to have been infinitely hot. But as the universe expanded, the temperature of the radiation decreased. One second after the big bang, it would have fallen to about ten thousand million degrees. This is about a thousand times the temperature at the centre of the sun, but temperatures as high as this is reached in H-bomb explosions. At that time, the universe would have contained mostly photons, electrons and neutrinos (extremely light particles that are affected only by the weak force and gravity) and their antiparticles, together with some protons and neutrons. As the universe continued to expand and the temperature to drop the rate at which electron/anti-electron pairs were being produced in collisions would have fallen below the rate which they were being destroyed by annihilation. So most of the electrons and anti-electrons would have annihilated with each other to produce more photons, leaving only a few electrons left over.

About one hundred seconds after the big bang, the temperature would have fallen to one thousand million degrees, the temperature inside the hottest stars. At this temperature protons and neutrons would no longer have sufficient energy to escape the attraction of the strong nuclear force, and would start to combine together to produce the nuclei of atoms of deuterium (heavy hydrogen), which contain one proton and one neutron. The deuterium nuclei then would have combined with more protons and neutrons to make helium nuclei, which contain two protons, and two neutrons, and also small amounts of a couple of heavier elements lithium and beryllium. One can calculate that in the hot big bang model, about a quarter of the protons and neutrons would have been converted into helium nuclei, along with a small amount of heavy hydrogen and other elements. The remaining neutrons would have decayed into protons, which are the nuclei of ordinary hydrogen atoms.

Within only a few hours of the big bang, the production of helium and other elements would have stopped. And after that, for the next million years or so, the universe would have just continued expanding, without anything much happening. Eventually, once the temperature had dropped to a few thousand degrees, and electrons and nuclei no longer had enough energy to overcome the electromagnetic attraction between them, they would have started combining to form atoms. The universe as a whole would have continued expanding and cooling, but in regions that were slightly denser than average; the expansion would have been slowed down by the extra-gravitational attraction. This would eventually stop expansion in some regions and cause them to start to recollapse. As they were collapsing, the gravitational pull of matter outside these regions might start them rotating slightly. As the collapsing region got smaller, it would spin faster just as skaters spinning on ice spin faster as they draw in their arms. Eventually, when the region got small enough, it would be spinning fast enough to balance the attraction of gravity, and in this way dislike rotating galaxies were born. Other regions, which did not happen to pick up a rotation, would become oval- shaped objects called elliptical galaxies. In these, the region would stop collapsing because individual parts of the galaxy would be orbiting around its centre, but the galaxy would have no overall rotation.

As time went on, the hydrogen and helium gas in the galaxies would break up into smaller clouds that would collapse under their gravity. As these contracted and the atoms within them collided with one another the temperature of the gas would increase, until eventually it became hot enough to start nuclear fusion reaction These would convert the hydrogen into more helium, and the heat given off would raise the pressure, and so stop the clouds from contracting any further. They would remain stable in this state for a long time as stars like our sun, burning hydrogen into helium and radiating the resulting energy as heat and light. More massive stars would need to be hotter to balance their stronger gravitational attraction, making the nuclear fusion reactions proceed so much more rapidly that they would use up their hydrogen in as little as a hundred million years. They would then contract slightly, and as they heated up further, would start to convert helium into heavier elements like carbon or oxygen.

The earth was initially very hot and without an atmosphere. In the course of time, it cooled and acquired an atmosphere from the emission of gases from the rocks. This early atmosphere was not one in which we could have survived. It contained no oxygen, but a lot of other gases that are poisonous to us, such as hydrogen sulphide (the gas that gives rotten eggs their smell). There are, however, other primitive forms of life that can flourish under such conditions. It is thought that they developed in the oceans, possibly as a result of chance combinations of atoms into large structures, called macromolecules, which were capable of assembling other atoms in the ocean into similar structures. They would thus have reproduced themselves and multiplied.

A process of evolution was started that led to the development of more and more complicated, self-reproducing organisms. The first primitive forms of life consumed various materials, including hydrogen sulphide, and released oxygen. This gradually changed the atmosphere to the composition that it has today and allowed the development of higher forms of life such as fish, reptiles, mammals, and ultimately the human race.

This picture of a universe that started off very hot and cooled as it expanded is in agreement with all the observational evidence that we have today.

  • Jain Vishva Barati Institute, Ladnun, India
  • Edited by Muni Mahendra Kumar
  • 3rd Edition 1995

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