You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Ideas

So you want to build a universe

7 steps to your own personal cosmos

MARK McGinnis

First the bad news: A mysterious force called dark energy is tearing the universe apart. In as little as 17 billion years, our beloved universe could be shredded to its atomic bits.

Now the good news: You can flex some real artistic muscle and take on the project to end all projects. Physicists think it’s at least conceivable that new universes can bud off in very tiny spaces. Perhaps you could build a new universe. Think of the possibilities: a whole cosmos under your control. Admit it: You’ve always wanted to do this. If the idea overwhelms you, the following tips ought to keep you on track. Remember, nobody wants to see a half-built universe.

Continue reading below

1. Start small.
Contrary to what you might think, the best way to create a finite universe is to begin with nothing. Creating something out of nothing—let alone an entire burbling universe—is not a matter to be trifled with, so tread carefully. Exploit the fact that in physics, empty space contains minuscule energy fluctuations that pop into and out of existence. If conditions are right, these can expand to cosmic proportions, ultimately creating galaxies, stars, and planets with purple daisies. Unfortunately, the right conditions might depend on using string theory, the latest 11-dimensional “theory of everything” which, it’s safe to say, absolutely no one understands. Just create a positive, nurturing environment and hope for the best.

2. Vacuum!
You can generate some empty space by forcing all the air out of a balloon and then stretching the balloon, making sure that no air molecules sneak back in. No one knows how wide the balloon needs to be stretched for the random energy fluctuations in the empty space inside to do their thing. Pretend you’re Christo. Stretch it across the country and see what happens. If the space inside the balloon begins expanding, stand clear—there’s a reason astronomers called the Big Bang big. If it doesn’t expand, seed the inner surface of the balloon with yeast. Who knows? It could work.

3. Be careful.
Note that an expanding universe in the middle of the country could very well be a threat to civilization as we know it, so investigate channeling it into other dimensions until you’re ready to show it off. Ask a string theorist if you need help. They’re always itching to feel useful.

4. Practice moderation.
An expanding universe should be able to take care of itself, but you have a couple of things to watch out for. If it expands too fast, matter—forming out of the energy fluctuations—won’t have time to clump and you’ll never evolve stars, planets, plants or people to water them. Similarly, if it expands too slowly, gravity will gain the upper hand and recollapse your universe before you reach your next birthday. Why our universe exists in the middle of these extremes is a big, honking cosmic mystery whose solution is best left to the experts. Whatever you do, aim for a cosmic expansion rate, also known as the Hubble constant, in the “Goldilocks” range—not too fast, not too slow, but just right.

5. Set the ground rules.
Make sure that your universe has its own laws of physics. Keep them hidden so that any future scientists who evolve in your universe can have the joy of discovering them. Everybody loves a good mystery.

6. Step back and watch.
Finally, as it expands and cools, your universe should convert energy into matter, and in no time you should have stars alighting out of the primordial gas. This is a good sign. Your universe is underway. Congratulations.

7. Advertise.
This is delicate....If you just broadcast the existence of your newly invented universe to all and sundry, people will likely see you as a crackpot. Instead, try the poetic approach, e.e. cummings-style. Whisper to your companion, “Listen, there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.” Worry about where exactly “next door” is when the time comes.

Daniel Hudon is a lecturer at Boston University and the author of “The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos” (Oval Books, UK) and a chapbook, “Evidence for Rainfall” (Pen and Anvil). This article is adapted from a longer version that appeared in the Cream City Review. Find more of his writing at people.bu.edu/hudon.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week