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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Dec;950:1-16.

Cosmic questions: an introduction.

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Department of Physics, University of California-Santa Cruz, 95064, USA.


This introductory talk at the Cosmic Questions conference sponsored by the AAAS summarizes some earlier pictures of the universe and some pictures based on modern physics and cosmology. The uroboros (snake swallowing its tail) is an example of a traditional picture. The Biblical flat-earth picture was very different from the Greek spherical earth-centered picture, which was the standard view until the end of the Middle Ages. Many people incorrectly assume that the Newtonian picture of stars scattered through otherwise empty space is still the prevailing view. Seeing Earth from space shows the power of a new picture. The Hubble Space Telescope can see all the bright galaxies, all the way to the cosmic Dark Ages. We are at the center of cosmic spheres of time: looking outward is looking backward in time. All the matter and energy in the universe can be represented as a cosmic density pyramid. The laws of physics only allow the material objects in the universe to occupy a wedge-shaped region on a diagram of mass versus size. All sizes--from the smallest size scale, the Planck scale, to the entire visible universe--can be represented on the Cosmic Uroboros. There are interesting connections across this diagram, and the human scale lies in the middle.

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