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tv   John Mc Laughlins One on One  PBS  May 22, 2011 9:00am-9:30am PDT

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self centering the universe. thanks to data from a nasa orbiter called the shandra x-ray observatory, the scientists have just confirmed the existence of mysterious dark matter that holds the universe together. this finding and a galaxy of others since the late 19 90s makes it possible for astro physicists to understand the very essence of the universe. what does science tell us about our place in the cosmos? where do we fit in to the universe? in the first of a two-part series, we'll ask the authors of the view from the center of the universe,
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dr. joel primack and nancy ellen abrahams. if. for such a small if i live to a hundred.p if social security isn't enough. if my heart gets broken. if she says yes. we believe if should never hold you back. if should be managed with a plan that builds on what you already have. together we can create a personal safety net, a launching pad, for all those brilliant ifs in the middle of life. you can call on our expertise and get guarantees for the if in life. after all, we're metlife.
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welcome to both of you. pleasure to see you. >> thank you. >> your book, the view from the center of the universe, the subtitle is, discovering our extraordinariy place in the cosmos, is a tour of the universe. it's ambitious and i think it's fulfilled. and it's great to have you here. >> delighted to be here. thank you very having us. >> the assumptions are that we know a lot more about the universe today than we did a couple decades ago. and that's true because of clos copy, correct? >> correct. >> we have the hubble, what are the other telescopes that enlighten us about the universe? >> there are a number of
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major observatories in space. in particular, there are two other great observatories still functioning, shandra space telescope and spitsers space telescope, an infrared telescope. the hubble is still doing wonderful work in pace. >> in deep space. >> deep space. neither telescopes that are in different locations, shandra and h hble are near the earth. visitors actually orbit around the sun and are moving away from the earth all the time. you have to understand that there are major telescopes on the ground. we have now about 10 telescopes that are 8-10 nerts size. in other words, they are more than twice the diameter, more than 4 times the light gathering power of the telescope which was the world's largest for a long time. 10 more under construntion.
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we the the largest telescopes, two in hawaii and 4 in chile. and there are many others around the world. and in addition, we have great radio telescopes which although they are getting radio signals, they allow us to make detailed images using radio waves and by cross comparing the data from these different telescopes, we can learn more than we could from any one telescope. >> what do you think about the size of the universe? >> we know nows sight of the visible universe. i can tell what you it is. 46 billion light years from here to as far as we can see. >> that's beyond the power of the human imagination to conceive, though, correct? >> the imagination has to be trained. it would have been hard even for a professional astronomer to understand
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without a certain amount of theory, coupled with these observations. >> the other problem is that it's expanding is it not? >> it is. >> the rate of expansion increased over the past 4-5 billion years? >> exactly. increasing just about during that period. it was slowing down and now it's speeding up. >> did it slow down because the universe was creating galaxies and stars? do we have a billion galax snes. >> no. about 100 billion. >> can we talk about a galaxee? we have the solar system. it consists of 8 planets now? pluto has been demoted. >> correct. >> if you were over voting on pluto and whether it belonged in with the 3 others they were going to put in because pluto's size was comparable to the 3 others and they ought to get into this union too, how would you have voted? >> i would have voted the way the international
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astronomical delicacy voted. it was a wise decision. >> how would you have voted? >> the same way. it's bad to be tied up by historical artifacts so science can't progress into the future. >> so if -- that means we have 12 plan snets. >> no. >> you would voted against it. >> i would have voted there are 8 planets that are real planets. >> we can change -- we are really changing the planetary system, aren't we? by human will? and if we can do that in the instance of planets, can we do it elsewhere with regard to the universe? >> well, we're not changing the universe. all we're doing is talking about definitions, about words. and i think that the goal here is clarity. when pluto was discovered, it was a marvelous thing. new mexico deserves credit
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for having made an interesting discovery. but we didn't really know what pluto was in those days. now we understand that there are many of these fairly large ice balls out about where pluto is, some closer, many further away. they are not really like the big planets. not like any of the big 8. >> let me bring you back to the solar system and the planets. now if we move beyond the planets in a galaxy, how big are the gag amenties? >> the visible part of our galaxies -- >> the milky way? >> yes. it's about 25,000 light years from where we are to the center of the galaxy. we are halfway out. so it's about 50,000 light years from the center to the edge of the visible galaxy. the dark mart is much further. >> can you translate that into earth miles? >> 6 trillion miles per
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light year. so you have to do some multiplication. >> how many light years? >> across the whole galaxee is 100,000 light years. so 100,000 times 6 trillion. >> and the galaxies you mentioned earlier over 100 billion of those of comparable size? >> yes. >> what about the age of the universe? >> that is a little harder. the best estimate right now is about 13.7 billion years. to do -- we have to calculate things like age. it's not something you can measure. and it depends on knowing eye number of other numbers very precisely and we don't know the numbers that precisely yet. so what i say is that if around 40 billion years. quite sure of that. but i don't think that we
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can be quite sure it's 13.7. it might be give or take a few hundred million years. >> what's the basis for the formulation? >> there are a number of different ways we measure. we can -- we understand that the universe slowed down because of gravity. >> and because it was generating all of the above? >> right. and then it started speeding up again. >> but it didn't preexist all of the above. i mean it didn't fill a container. the universe is not a container. right. it's expanding, creating new -- >> what is it expanding in? >> it turns out from the point of view of relativity i'm going to get to you ms. abrahams. nancy, in just a moment. but i want some dark matter. and dark matter are in
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theory of it was originated in part by you, back in the 80s, correct? when you fought the battle of, is there dark matter? because there is nothing sensory about dark matter. you can't look tat under a microscope, correct? >> right. >> how do you know it exists? >> by the affects on the motions of other objbjts and also because it bends light. >> you're talking about gravity? >> yes, it has gravity. >> is it a benign gravity? >> well, gravity never sleeps and it can cause terrible destruction. for example near black holes. so gravity certainly is benign for us. it's what is keeping us in our seats. but it can have very bad affects if you happen to slip at the edge of a precipice. >> what did it -- wt did dark matter do that was constructive for the
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evolution of the universe, the evolution of the earth? the earth is about 5 billion years old? >> 4.6 billili years old. >> when did man get here? >> it depends on how you define man. >> hom nids. >> hom nids about 4-5 million years ago. >>f hominids have intelligence? >> we don't know for sure. all we have are skeletons. our type, about 150,000 years ago the ones we call homosapience. >> are we talking about fire? wheels? basic inventions or discoveries? >> well, our predecessors in the hominid lines used fire. they didn't apparently use fire all the time but we have evidence of fires associated within the settlements going back hundreds of thousands ever years so before our kind of people. >> nancy, are we the only planet where there are
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creatures with intelligence and if we are, the only such planet, why are we talking about anything else? except from cureosity? >> we are the only plan of we know of that has intelligent life. there are a lot of planets out there and very likely some of them have life. >> you share that view? >> sure. >> you do? >> absolutely. >> well, there are scientists that think it's unproveable. >> it is so far because we have to look. >> theres such a convergence of factors is there not? >> it's very -- request quite unlikely we would evolve here but we did and this is a very big universe and extremely unlikely things can happen and do happen all the time. it's really important to think about whether there is alien intelligence or not. even if we are very unlikely to encounter it in our life
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times. and one of the reasons is that it helps us to understand what we are. what we think of as ourselves. people very often ask this question, are we alone? and by that they mean, are there other intelligent beings in the universe? real they question, are we alone, is a question about us. if you are in a room with just a fly flying around, do you feel alone? but most people would say yes. but if you're swimming in a tank with dolphins and someone says are you alone? fewer people will say yes. more people will think there is something here with this dolphin. now, what would it take in an alien species before we would say the existence of that species meant that we were not alone? that's maybe a thee rett kat call question but the answer to that whether it would take compassion or caring for each other, we don't know what it would take but whatever it would take, those are the essential
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elements of our own humanity because that's what we project on to the possibility of an alien intelligence. >> are there correspondences in the cellular world between a dolphin -- dolphin is a mammal, correct? >> uh-huh. >> any mammal and a human, the cellular structure, and let us say, the heartbeat. are there a fixed number of heartbeats in a mammal -- i'm feeding you back a couple lines from your book. you are on the belief that there is 1.5 billion heartbeats in humans on average, correct? >> not only humans but all mammals. >> what does that include? elephants and blue whale, the largest living creature. all the way down to the smallest mammal which is the kind of tree shrew that is only about a centimeter long. >> where do you go from there, nancy?
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we have this correspondence with mammals, correct? >> yes. >> we are originally talking about whether or not there is alien or whether or not alien life in the universe could be intgs intelligent life. but let's start here with the proposition that mammals and humans have a lot in common. what happens then? that relieves the feeling of aloneness, correct? >> i don't know if that's really aloneness. we always known there are other animals on earth of course. but the fact that we have this similarity in heartbeat is not just a random fact. it actually comes down to the structure of our bodies and the way that our circulatory system works and if aliens are based on cells, which is very likely since life on earth start friday a celel a single cell, if aliens are based that way too, they must have a circulatory system because there has to be some nourishment brought to every cell and then waste products
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have to be removed and that -- the fact of the matter is that if there are intelligent aliens that work like us biologically, they have to be about the same size we are. for that same reason. >> where did that cell come from? what are the components of that cell? protoplasm? >> sure. >> bacteria? >> well, the earliest kinds of cells were something like the primitive source of bacteria we have. they are a little different and reasonably scientists realized that there is a whole family they call ark yons which are different from bacteria and also different from the so-called ucariats, the cells with separate nuclei -- >> how far back are we now back in time? >> the first evidence for this kind of life, for living organisms dates from about 3.7 billion years ago.
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it controversial. not completely clear. if you go back to a little over 3 billion years ago it's perfectly clear. there was definately an abundance of life. so the earth started about 4.6 billion years ago. after a few hundred million years of intense bombardment of the earth when the conditions were certainly too hostile for any sort of life to exist, about as early as the earth became inhabitable for living organisms theathy seems to have had living organisms. so thearilyiest sorts of living cells seem to have originated quite quickly. within a few hundred million years. so it seems likely but of course we don't know this, that other sufficiently hospitable planets will havee life on them within a few hundred million years.
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>> this is s at you say on one page of your book, the universe and common spec cease a container for everything else but the universe of modern cosmol gee, you're also an astrophysicist? so you know about the quant um theoriet cell setra? >> yes. >> but the universe of more than cosmologiy is not just a container, it's a dynamic evolving being. the initial explosive expansion slowed down as it made most galaxies and stars but about 5 billion years ago it began expanding faster and faster. the universe exists in different ways on every size scale from the largest to the smallest. and all times are within it. and it's increasing in size as massive speeds, correct? >> correct. >> now, are you saying here that the universe is smou
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somehow divine? >> no. >> is thine verse god? >> no. >> you're not saying that. >> no. >> but it's living? >> living is a complicated word. >> it contains life t si the source of all life. >> we are inside it. >> and we are inside it. >> but the universe -- but we are the universe. the universe snpt something that is out there in the distance and we are somehow observers. we're the universe right here. this table is the universe. you are what the big bang is doing right there in your chair right now. we are all part testify. >> the big bang is continuing? >> yes, it goes on and on. you can think of it that way, yes. >> you have proof of that? that's a term logical issue whether or not we want to call it the big bang. we are direct descendants of the big bang and the universe is evolving and changing ever since then and it will continue to do that. the way the universe is now is not the way it was a few billion years ago and a few
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billion years before that it was quite different. >> so when you're teaching this in class as you do, your first objective is to remove the idea of statics. this is not a static situation. >> absoluteliy. it's a living situation and the universe itself is living because it's expanding. >> and changing. >> and changing. thus we have volcanoes and eruptions and techatologyic plates and so forth. >> on earth. >> the earth is a living planet. it's in a living universe. a universe is constantly changing, evolving, a dynamic universe. >> where did it come from? >> we don't know. we have theories. >> it's fine snit. >> the part we can see is absolutely finite and we know how big it is. >> but it's constantly evolving which makes it sound like it's in if i nit. then you're in theeology. >> the part we can see is finite. what is beyond we don't
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know. we can make theories about it on that matter of religion, you say here in your book, we must absorb the immense realization is there an over arching truth encompassing all of our religons. we are at the center of a new universe. we got into that somewhat but are we equipped for that set snup. >> we are in it. whether we are equipped or not and the fact of the matter is we now understand this enough and we tried to make it clear enough in the book, every religion explainsnshere people came from. how the world originated and so forth but basically they use the story that was prevalent at the time that religion began which means most of these stories are very limited. >> are you saying that there is no other? no all together other? >> other? >> other.
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you know, heaven. are you saying that? are you saying that we are inside the other? >> we are inside the universe. and the universe is expanding and we are all evolving with it. now we are extremely unusual beings because we can talk about exractions perhaps no other animal each understands the idea of exractions. but we can talk about it by using met force and the met force we use, for example, heaven and a metaphor and divine is metaphor call. ways we try to connect ourselves personal tow something huge and cosmic. every people? hysterectomy retried troo do that. they all used different metaphors. we have the biggest and astonishing metaphors ever available and can you clear up something for me? in your book, you mentioned a wrinkle before the big
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bang. what's the wringel? >> well, of course the word wrink sell a way of saying in words people will understand, something that is pretty complicated. what happens in our picture of how the universe starts is that there is a very brief period when it expands explosively, not at all like the ordinariy expansion. >> you put that in terms of years a few moments ago, correct? how many years ago was that. >> about 37 billion years ago. >> before that, you can't go backwards. you really have to look forwards and i understand that but let's not get into that. what i the wrinkle? >> this period of extremely rapid expansion that starts off the big bang or comes before the big bang, leaves the universe very, very smooth but not perfectly smooth. it has slight differences in
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density from place to place. they are very, very slight. they are like the slight in dennitations on an almost perfectly sphere call ball, just a little tiny wrinkles on the surface but it turns out that is all it takes in the billions of years the universe has evolved to produce galaxies and clusters of galaxies and all the big structures we see in the universe. >> does the wrinkle prove that there were other possible big bangs elsewhere? >> it doesn't prove it. but if you try to understand where it could have come from, then the theory does lead you to believe there could be many, many big bangs. >> can any religion conform to your understanding of the universe? >> well, there is an interesting correspondence we mention in our book
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between the more than picture of how the universe began -- modern -- and the ideas we develop in the middle ages by a certain group of jews, it's called kabala, which means tradition in hebrew. that had this picture the universe start friday a point and they said it in a somewhat different way. what they said was, that god withdrew from a little place and made room for us, for our universe to come into existence and so the withdrawl of god is create created -- which then became filled with somomhing that was not god and that is the universe. >> and this by the way was one of the reasons why evil could exist in the universe in their theory because that was the place from which god withdrew. >> what do you mean by the cosmickeur boris? >> or borea is a snake that
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swallowed his tail. >> is that myth? >> of course it's middle call. it's not a snake. it's a ser pent. it's a middle call sort of snake but what we are doing is -- mythical -- using that as one of the symbols we use in our book to try to give pictures that people can graspy and work with and in this case, we are using it to represent all the different size scales in the universe. it turns out there is a smaller size that is very, very small but it's not zero and there is a larger size we can see which is the whole visible universe and we rem sent those around this snake swal owing its tail. >> what happens then? >> two interesting things. first of all we are in the middle, our size, the human size is right in the middle between the symbolic size. >> we are almost out of time. >> there is an idea the swallowing of the tail that
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represents a hope that we are actually going to understand how the whole picture fits together. we are going to have a second installment of this program. this subject matter and i look forward to seeing you then. thank you for participating in this session. >> thank you, for inviting us. >> thank you.
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