The farther we see into the universe, the younger the objects we see. But if we could see the Big Bang, it would be right on top of us. Isn’t this paradoxical?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

The idea that the FARTHER we are able to see into the universe, the YOUNGER the objects we see, seems paradoxical because if we could see FAR ENOUGH, we would see the beginning of the universe; and since the Big Bang holds that it all started from a single point, the objects would not be far away at all, but RIGHT ON TOP OF US. What gives, Cecil?

Ian replies:

Dear Straight Dope:

The idea that the FARTHER we are able to see into the universe, the YOUNGER the objects we see, seems paradoxical because if we could see FAR ENOUGH, we would see the beginning of the universe; and since the Big Bang holds that it all started from a single point, the objects would not be far away at all, but RIGHT ON TOP OF US. What gives, Cecil?

Tom (I always wanted to say this), you’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally. No matter how far-reaching our telescopes, we’ll never be able to see the beginning of the universe, for the same reason we can’t see the first broadcast of the last Seinfeld again – we were there when it happened. If you didn’t tape it, you’re out of luck. First of all, let’s think about the beginning itself. Analogies you see in science books for us laymen types will say ‘picture a pond,’ or ‘an expanding balloon,’ but I say why pussyfoot around – picture the Big Bang. As you say, current theory contends that the universe was condensed into a singularity all those billions of years ago. When the Big Bang banged, matter and energy (including light) exploded in all directions. The energy traveled at the speed of light. The matter traveled at a brisk pace, one assumes, but more slowly than light. As a result, no matter how fast we – by which I mean the atoms which comprise us and our world – have been speeding from that point since the Big Bang, there’s no way we can catch up to the light emanating from said Bang. We will never see the universe’s first moment. What are the earliest events we can see? They lie close to the event horizon, the frontier of our expanding universe.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

Comment on this Column