How Small is the Universe?

By now everyone has probably heard of the Higgs Boson and the likelihood that it has been discovered, but that is not as far as the rabbit hole goes, there may be much, much more still yet to discover about the subatomic world and our Universe, as explored in the BBC series Horizon.

Large Hadron Collider
Large Hadron Collider – How Small is the Universe? (BBC)

It is thought that via the same process of firing protons at each other that led to the discovery of the Higgs, extremely small black holes may also be created. The ‘micro black holes’ would be smaller than a proton and would only exist for fractions of a second before disappearing in a ‘puff of radiation’, which is the characteristic that would flag their existence. If these so called micro black holes are being created, then it would suggest that the current understanding of gravity and general relativity could still be wrong, and that there could in fact be a fourth dimension (or potentially more), to which some of gravity’s force is escaping. For the full explanation watch the full episode here.

Atoms under the microscope
Atoms under the microscope – How Small is the Universe? (BBC)

The smallest thing to ever be visible under a microscope is now the atom, the things that everything we can see and touch are constructed from. A new microscope has been created that allows scientists to magnify up to a scale where the individual atoms that make up all matter can be viewed, but that is as far as they have been able to magnify. Beyond this point it is not yet possible to look at what constitutes an atom due to the lack of technology to facilitate it. Which is why the experiments in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN are so critical to furthering our understanding of our world. Below the scale of the atom are the parts that make up the atom – protons, neutrons and electrons, and there are separate elements that these are constructed from. The analogy used in the program is of a Russian doll, with each consecutive piece getting smaller and smaller. But, and this is a quote from the program; “this thing that you think is the smallest constituent may in fact be the thing that contains all of us… so the notion that this is the smallest constituent is paradoxically not at odds with the statement that it may also be the whole universe.”

Russian Dolls
Russian Dolls – How Small is the Universe? (BBC)

An interesting fact about atoms and everything that we perceive to be solid objects is the fact that they are mostly made up of empty space. If an atom was scaled up to five miles across in diameter, then the nucleus at the centre would only be ten centimetres across. This means that there is a large amount of space inside every atom, and therefore inside all matter.

Graphic representation of an atom
Graphic representation of an atom – How Small is the Universe? (BBC)

Another popular subject at the moment is the speed of light, and it is suggested in this program that it may not be constant, as was predicted by Einstein. If this can be proven then it would mean that the current Standard Model theory would have to be thrown in the bin and scientists would have to go back to the drawing board and start again.

Graphic representation of an Atom Nucleus
Graphic representation of an atom nucleus – How Small is the Universe? (BBC)

These programs are only available for a limited time, so be quick. Click here for the full episode (may not be available outside the UK).