We still have a lot of material to cover in this section, and I want to give you a brief overview of an interesting alternative to conventional cosmology. So I'm going summarize for you these two challenges to the big bang and include a third problem as well. The test of any scientific theory is based upon the relationship between its predictions and observations. Let's see how well the big bang has done:
Many cosmologists think that nearly 99 percent of the universe is unobservable and made of dark matter. The universe we do see, the stars, galaxies, and literally everything else, only constitutes about 1 or 2 percent of the total amount of matter in the universe. The rest is some strange and unknown form of matter, particles that are necessary for the big bang theory to work. Theorists realized that there is just too little matter in the universe for the gravitational forces to have created the universe in the form that it's in today. So something has to create the needed gravity, hence the theory of dark matter. This idea was introduced about 20 years ago and has since become a fundamental part of the big bang cosmology.
Plasma is regarded as a fourth phase of matter, the other three being solid, liquid, and gas. It is a hot state of matter in which electrons have been stripped from atoms to leave positively charged ions, which mingle freely with the electrons. The Northern lights are a naturally occurring form of plasma, as is St. Elmo's fire. You've probably seen the “Eye of the Storm” or similar plasma balls in stores. They're those really cool objects that have the tiny electrical storms inside the glass spheres. When you bring your hand in contact with the glass surface, the bolts of plasma electricity inside react to ions surrounding your hand.
So while the big bang predicts the things in the preceding list, observations have shown them to be incorrect. However, this is the accepted theory for now, and many scientists assume that it's right. To abandon it would not be easy. Few theories in science are ever left behind when there is no alternative in sight. So what are we left with? Well, there is a new alternative on the horizon. It's called plasma cosmology. Here's a basic idea of what it's about.
The advocates of plasma cosmology believe that the evolution of the universe in the past must be explained in terms of the processes occurring in the universe today. In other words, events that occur in the depths of space can be explained in terms of phenomena studied in the laboratories on earth. This approach rules out the concepts of a universe that began out of nothing, somewhere in time, like the big bang. We can't recreate the initial conditions of the big bang in laboratories. The closest we can get is in the particles created in accelerators. Plasma cosmology supports the idea that because we see an evolving universe that is constantly changing, this universe has always existed and has always evolved, and will continue to exist and evolve for eternity.
Another aspect of this new theory is that, while the big bang sees the universe in terms of gravity alone, the plasma universe is formed and controlled by electricity and magnetism, not just gravitation. With the introduction of electromagnetism the “clumpiness” of the universe and the fluctuations in microwave background radiation can be easily accounted for. Even the expansion of the universe can be explained by the electromagnetic interaction of matter and antimatter.
Since all that is being provided for you is a simple summary and basic explanation of plasma cosmology I would recommend that you check out the list of recommended reading in this area in the Appendix B, “Suggested Reading List.” There is a lot more to this theory than I can elaborate on in the space of a few pages, so if you're interested in finding out more about these new ideas, I suggest you look into some of the books I've recommended. There is still very little support for this theory because the big bang is the one that many believe is the correct interpretation of the origin of the universe, and to question the validity of this theory is not on the minds of many of today's cosmologists.
And while electromagnetism forms the basis for plasma cosmology, it is also the basis for our technological society that surrounds us today. Plasma technology has stimulated research for better computer screens, how radio and radar transmission can be increased, and may be the answer to developing the long-sought-after genie in the bottle: fusion energy. So in the long run it holds the possibility of not only providing a better description of the origin and structure of the universe, but it can also lead to a whole new area of advanced technology. I'll be discussing some material on the Eastern traditions and their approach to cosmology. There are some interesting correlations between their understanding of the universe and the ideas behind plasma cosmology.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Theories of the Universe © 2001 by Gary F. Moring. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.