Brian Cox discusses the 'disturbing' nature of black holes
The physicist presented the last instalment of his groundbreaking new BBC series last night, 'Universe: Where everything begins and ends'. He explored the vital question behind our existence, attempting to find out how the universe came to be. Looking at the various cutting-edge space missions that have brought us closer to the answer, he touched on how discoveries of far away galaxies have helped us to understand how we came to be, and also the technology used along the way.
Opening the documentary, he said: “Our universe is an enigma, an endless inexhaustible paradox.
"There are trillions of planets and one of them nurtured beings capable of contemplating this cosmic drama, miraculously improbable, brief candles flickering against the eternal night."
The question of where it all began has preoccupied humans for thousands of years.
For most of history, the answer has been found in religion.
But, with advances in science and the growth of a secular world, things like physics have stepped in to fill the void.
Brian Cox: The physicist said there was a time before the Big Bang in which the universe existed
Science: Cox presented the final instalment of his 'Universe' series
Ironically, the prevailing cosmological model explaining the existence of the observable universe from the earliest known periods through to today was first suggested by a Belgian priest named Georges Lemaître in the 1920s.
He theorised that the universe began from a single primordial atom.
This has been built on by scientists through the years, and is widely accepted to be the event behind our origins.
But, according to Prof Cox, there was a time before this; a time before the Big Bang in which the universe did exist.
He made the case for this line of argument during 'Universe', and explained: "We know that 13.8 billion years ago, this space that I'm standing in now, and the space you're standing in now, and all the space out to the edge of the observable universe, containing two trillion galaxies, was very hot and veer dense and has been expanding ever since.
"Now, that implies that way back, everything was closer together.
"Everything was contained in a very small speck.
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"But, how small was that speck? And how did it come to be?
"We used to think that the universe emerged in that state, very hot and very dense, at the beginning of time.
"And we used to call that the Big Bang.
"But now, we strongly suspect that the universe existed before that.
"And in that sense, it's possible to speak of a time before the Big Bang."
Before the Big Bang, there was no matter, and all that existed was space-time and an ocean of energy — almost still, but gently rippling.
Prof Cox says we should "picture it as a near-still ocean of energy, filling the void".
While this place contained no structures, the energy did have an effect on space, causing it to stretch.
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Universe: Cox talked about a time that preceded the Big Bang
A time before time: The space before the Big Bang was relatively still but gently rippling
This would not have been the gentle expansion we see today, "but an unimaginably violent expansion".
That expansion is known as inflation.
Last year, Sir Roger Penrose made a similar case as he received the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Having won the award for his seminal work proving that black holes exist, he said he had found six "warm" points in the sky, which he called "Hawking Points" after the late physicist Stephen Hawking, who theorised that black holes ‘leak’ radiation and eventually evaporate away entirely.
These points were around eight times the diameter of the Moon.
The timescale for the complete evaporation of a black hole is huge — possibly longer than the age of our current universe, making them impossible to detect.
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But, Sir Roger believes that "dead" black holes from earlier universes or "aeons" are observable now.
If true, it would prove Prof Hawking's theories right.
Sir Roger said: "I claim that there is observation of Hawking radiation.
“The Big Bang was not the beginning.
"There was something before the Big Bang and that something is what we will have in our future.
“We have a universe that expands and expands, and all mass decays away, and in this crazy theory of mine, that remote future becomes the Big Bang of another aeon.
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“So our Big Bang began with something which was the remote future of a previous aeon and there would have been similar black holes evaporating away, via Hawking evaporation, and they would produce these points in the sky, that I call Hawking Points.
“We are seeing them. These points are about eight times the diameter of the Moon and are slightly warmed up regions.
"There is pretty good evidence for at least six of these points.”
The idea is controversial within science.
But many scientists do believe that the universe operates in a perpetual cycle in which it expands, contracts in a "Big Crunch", before going through a Big Bang.