Epic of Evolution - Seven Stages of the Cosmos by E. Chaisson

By E. Chaisson

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Yet they were unable to increase the age estimate for the Sun to much more than a hundred million years—a value surely older than recorded history but still much less than that then needed by the British naturalist Charles Darwin to explain the fossil record in terms of biological evolution by natural selection. Long- 26 P R O LO G U E dead life-forms seemed at the time to be at least several hundred million years old, and we now realize they are even older, as noted in the Biological Epoch. Kelvin got similarly low values for Earth’s age when trying to estimate the rate at which our planet cooled, largely because he overlooked the poor thermal conductivity of the rocky interior—all of which put geological evolution into conflict with biological evolution.

14 P R O LO G U E Let’s briefly examine how the notion of an accelerated object can replace the commonsense idea of gravity. The upshot is this: Einstein’s theory of relativity allows us to inquire how it is that matter, which conventionally gives rise to Newton’s theory of gravity, alters the nature of spacetime. Bypassing the details, matter effectively shapes the geometry of spacetime. Put another way, mass is said to “curve” or “warp” spacetime. Ordinary Euclidean geometry—the type learned in high school— holds valid when the extent of curvature is zero, that is, when spacetime is flat.

This model in many ways resembles the rocket trajectory for which, in our earlier example, the gravitational pull was great enough to cause the rocket’s path to become elliptical. Since it has a similar geometrical pattern, a cosmic model containing enough matter to reverse the expansion is often called an elliptical Universe. It’s also sometimes termed a “closed Universe”—closed because it represents a Universe finite in size and in time. It has a beginning and it has an end. P R O LO G U E 31 The change of density in a closed Universe is interesting—and ominous.

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