Do we exist by default or by design?

Can one imagine our universe and our life(as we know it)without the element Carbon? No chance whatsoever. We simply can’t exist without carbon. We as well as plants /animals are predominantly made up of carbon in one form or the other. Not only that – the earth’s crust contains a huge amount of Coal which is another form of carbon. Crude oil ,of course is yet another form of carbon. This means not only are we made up of carbon in various forms(like proteins,amino acids etc),our life too is sustained by it. And yet ask any cosmologist as to how carbon in our universe was created and he will tell you that it was one of those chance events,a random,unlikely event,the probability of which was virtually nil. But still the universe was indeed created and what is more we are part of the same to study the phenomenon! This is where the so called Anthropic coincidence or principle comes into play.(Please read my previous Post for an explanation of Anthropic principle). In the following paragraphs I will make an attempt to present this CARBON RIDDLE in simple layman’s terms.

Creation of our Universe was made possible thanks to favourable disposition of several key factors. In this post I will deal with just one of them,which has to do with carbon. This was one of the biggest and the most complex riddles which the physicists and cosmologists had to answer. One may subscribe to any theory of creation of the Universe but ultimately one has to explain the formation of carbon.
Let me explain this riddle a little bit with an oversimplified picture of what apparently took place at the time of BIG BANG. According to the BIG BANG THEORY as the big bang took place,SPACE-TIME started to roll out(if one may visualize SPACE -TIME as a sort of a stretchable fabric)and it was initially filled with nothing but Hydrogen. The expanding universe obviously started to gradually lose its temperature. It was during this process of cooling that hydrogen gas was expected to transform into all other elements that we see today including the most crucial element carbon.
Just what are these elements that we are talking about? These are basically Hydrogen,Helium,—–Carbon,—–Iron,—-Gold,Platinum—Uranium—Thorium,—-Plutonium to name a few. Before the BIG BANG everything was a mere dense,hot soup. As the BIG BANG took place there was nothing but Hydrogen in the universe as I said earlier. This spread out in the SPACE -TIME ,eventually forming Stars and Galaxies. According to cosmologists, these stars acted as the giant sized crucibles for synthesizing all the elements by a process which is technically known as NUCLEOSYNTHESIS. As per the theory,when a dying Star underwent a process known as SUPERNOEVA EXPLOSION,the debris thrown out consisted of these elements in the Space. The debris could clump up together and form a secong generation Star, where further synthesis of elements would take place.
Today we know from theoretical and experimental physics what sort of energies are needed for these processes to take place. The required energies are so immense that only STARS can provide the right conditions for the NUCLEOSYNTHESIS to take place. For instance HYDROGEN can undergo FUSION reaction to form Helium in the SUN or a STAR . And what does it take to make it happen? A temperature of 4*10 to the power 7 deg.C.(or approx.4 million degC). However,all kinds of problems arose when energy calculations were made for the formation of all-important carbon. 3 helium atoms had to come together to form carbon . As per calculations this would require a huge amount of energy. To give you an idea it required 200 million degrees centigrade over a period of billions of years for billions of Stars to synthesize significant amounts of carbon that we find today in the universe.
In scientific terms this is known as the ‘energy barrier’ to form the element carbon. One has to cross this barrier to make carbon from 3 atoms of the element Helium. This puzzle was eventually solved by the famous physicist by name Fowler who was able to precisely calculate the energy barrier to be crossed for the formation of Carbon. His work provided the evidence to show that Carbon formation is indeed possible although its probability is very very low. He was awarded Nobel prize in 1980s(I can’t remember the exact year)for this monumental work.

The ‘energy barrier’ for the formation of carbon may be likened to a guy attempting a long jump across a big creek to get out of ,say,an island. He has to do it in one shot or be doomed. However,once he crosses the barrier,there is no looking back – the rest of the world is his.
Likewise,formation of carbon was also considered a very very unlikely ,chance event. And yet it did happen. For if it didn’t we would not be existing today to study this phenomenon!! This is the essence of the Anthropic principle.

It is important to point out here that Carbon formation was the major hitch and once it formed somehow,our laws of physics and chemistry could explain the formation of the rest of the heavy elements(metals etc).

That is the fascinating story of how Carbon was created against heavy odds. Doesn’t it give us an idea of how lucky we are to exist today considering the odds against our (or universe) creation?

I just touched on only one of the key factors which accounted for the creation of the universe. There are several others and I will attempt to talk about some of them in the succeeding posts.

The purpose of taking so much pain to explain the science behind creation of universe is that as we keep exploring various factors of creation of our universe,some of us are bound to feel there is a FINE TUNER(read GOD?) out there directing the whole show.

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Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Amazing post. Thank you!


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