The Early Cosmos and the Speed of Light
Barry Setterfield, December 1, 2016
The very early universe is something of a puzzle. At the exact moment of its origin, the equations that physicists use to describe what is happening hit a blank wall. It is called a ‘singularity’. The equations no longer work. Much time and effort has been expended in trying to deduce what precisely occurred, and a number of theories exist. Unfortunately, there is no way to actually check these theories with any observation of the moments of the beginning. All that can be deduced at present is that the whole universe was contained in an extremely small volume, which also meant that it must have been exceptionally hot. Such conditions ensured that matter was in the form of plasma, that is freely wandering electrons and protons or ions. No atoms could exist. In this state, matter is formless or vacuous. Furthermore, when matter is in this state, light photons are simply bounced off this opaque screen of particles. Thus, light cannot escape out of this “fog” any more than car headlights can penetrate a bank of fog when immersed in it.
The evidence suggests that this plasma universe was then expanded out to its present size over time. The Bible supports this view as it reiterates 12 times that the heavens were stretched out following the creation of space, matter and time out of nothing. When something like a hot gas, or even plasma, is stretched out and expanded into a larger volume, its temperature drops. Our refrigerators operate on a similar principle. As the temperature drops, a stage is eventually reached when the temperature is low enough for neutral atoms to form. Cosmologically, this is usually assumed to be around 3000 degrees K. Neutral atoms are atomic nuclei which have a full complement of orbiting electrons. This atom-forming process allows light to escape from the cosmic ‘fog’ as the number of freely wandering particles is dramatically reduced. When the light burst out of the ‘fog’, it carried a record of the distribution of matter at that time as cooler and hotter areas. When we look out into the universe, we see this bank of cosmic ‘fog’; it is called the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR or just CMB). Because of ongoing universal expansion, the original temperature of the CMB of about 3000 K has now dropped to 2.726 degrees K above absolute zero and the emitted radiation is now in the microwave region of the spectrum. These data give us one measure of the amount of cosmic expansion which has occurred since the formation of the CMB.
The CMB is therefore a record of the moment when light first shone through the plasma universe. Earlier than that, astronomers and cosmologists have no observational information to go on, as light could not penetrate the CMB fog. However, a study of the CMB shows that something is not quite right. The distribution of temperature (and, it is assumed, matter as well) at the time of CMB formation was highly uniform up to about one part in 100,000. The CMB records temperature variations (‘hot’ and ‘cold’ regions) of 2.726 +/- 0.000018 degrees K (that is 18 micro-Kelvin) or a maximum variation in temperature of about 0.00004 degrees K. These extremely small variations can be seen as hotter (blue areas) and cooler (red areas) on the map in Figure 1 of the CMB made from the European Space Agency’s Plank satellite in 2013 and available from:
This uniformity presents a huge query known as the “horizon problem.” Light, and all forms of radiation, are supposed to travel at a fixed rate of 299,792.458 km/s throughout the universe, according to Einstein and his theories of Relativity. The problem is that, even at that speed in the much smaller early universe, light and radiation could not have gone from one side of the cosmos to the other in the time involved. It needed to do that so that the radiation could bounce around and mix and come to some equilibrium temperature with all the hot and cold spots eliminated. Since that could not happen, according to Relativity, it would be impossible for the temperature to be so uniform throughout the entire cosmos as the CMB indicates it was. Therefore, the present speed of light is far too low to account for the incredibly uniform temperature, even in a cosmos of very small initial size. In other words, the problem is that the “horizon” for the radiation was too far away for it to come to an even temperature.
There have been two main ways to tackle this “horizon problem”. The way that has been “standard physics”, since Alan Guth introduced the concept in January 1980, is what is called “inflation theory”. The theory basically says that at a certain critical moment, about 10-33 seconds after the initial singularity and before temperature differences existed, the tiny universe underwent an incredible inflation event. The event expanded out the universe faster than light following which it underwent a more leisurely rate of expansion. For that ‘inflation’ to happen, some force must have done the expanding. As yet the origin of that force is still debated as it does not exist today, at least not in that form. So it is unknown physics that is being employed to back up the theory, even though it has been described as “elegant”. For some, it had the advantage that Einstein’s Relativity was upheld at all times. Indeed, there was a term in his equations which was investigated as supplying the expansion force.
The alternate solution to the problem that gained the attention of science was proposed by Andreas Albrecht and Joao Magueijo in the late 1990’s. Their solution was an initial much higher value for the speed of light, something like 1060 times its current speed. Following the conclusion of the “Big Bang” event, the speed of light dropped to its present value. A variation on this was proposed by John Barrow who suggested that the speed of light dropped from its initial value progressively over the lifetime of the universe. This was ruled out by an examination of the fine structure constant, Alpha, which contains four different constants from physics, one of which was the speed of light. The value of Alpha was found to be essentially the same as its present value right out to the frontiers of the cosmos. Thus it was presumed that the speed of light had always been a constant after the Big Bang event. I spoke with Dr. Albrecht briefly about the matter and said that if the other constants making up Alpha also varied synchronously so that energy was conserved, then it was possible for the speed of light to vary, but Alpha would remain fixed. He responded that they had looked at that, “but we could not achieve all we wanted to with the theory if that was the case.” This disturbed me, because he was essentially telling me the theory was all-important regardless of data.
Joao Magueijo has now taken this theory one stage further, in collaboration with Niayesh Afshordi, by a detailed examination of the CMB. They conclude that, at an extremely high initial temperature of one trillion trillion degrees Celsius, the speed of light and the speed of matter are both the same and nearly infinite. After an interview with these physicists, one article in The Guardian put it like this:
As the universe cooled by expansion below the critical phase transition temperature, the speed of light dropped to its present value, which was maintained ever since. I have not been able to access their published paper as it is only the Abstract which is generally available. As a result, I do not know if Magueijo and Afshordi have involved other constants in their proposed “phase transition.” However, they have done a calculation of what might be expected from their proposal based on the CMB. The position and sizes of the slightly warmer and cooler areas in the CMB have been known for some time. The analysis of the size and distribution of these areas has given rise to a quantity called the CMB “spectral index”. These temperature differences are areas where there are greater or lesser concentrations of matter in the early universe, and their distribution is usually assumed to be the result of the action of gravity. However, Magueijo and Afshordi have calculated what the spectral index would be if their theory held and gravity was much slower than the proposed speed of light. Here is how the article in The Guardian put it:
The race is now on to see if the spectral index can be pinned down more precisely and prove the proposal right or wrong. It will be interesting to see what happens as they do not seem to have applied the emerging science of plasma astronomy to the formation of the hot and cold spots in the CMB. When it is, it may give a different reason for the spectral index as plasma astronomers assume that the hot and cold areas are the distribution of the initial plasma filaments and voids which make up the present distribution of galaxies throughout the universe. Obviously much more work needs to be done.
However, no matter what the outcome, this approach by Magueijo and Afshordi is different to the one that I have adopted since our first Report in 1987, namely the Plasma-ZPE (Zero Point Energy) model. The ZPE model does not have any predictions to make about the CMB, so it is independent of any results derived therefrom. However, it does have an initial high value for the speed of light which then dropped progressively afterwards. Associated with these changes in the speed of light were a number of other atomic constants which were synchronously varying, as data have indicated. The reason for these variations can be traced to changes in the electric and magnetic properties of the vacuum caused by universal expansion. In a similar way that the stretching of a rubber band puts an energy into its fabric, the expansion of the fabric of space put energy into the vacuum which has become known as the Zero Point Energy. It is called this because that energy is intrinsic to the vacuum even at absolute zero Kelvin. This ZPE actually exists and can be measured. It is this Zero Point Energy which controls the electric and magnetic properties of the vacuum of space. As the expansion of the cosmos continued, the ZPE built up. The simplest way to explain the results of this is to say that space became “thicker” with energy. As it did so, all electric and magnetic processes slowed down, including the speed of light, the rate of ticking of atomic clocks and the speed of plasma interactions. Thus, while the idea of an initially faster speed of light is in accord with both the Magueijo and Afshordi proposal as well as the Plasma-ZPE model, the actual mechanism whereby this is achieved and the subsequent results are different. Nevertheless, if the concept of initially faster lightspeed comes to be accepted in any form by mainstream science, this will be a major breakthrough.