Going to the ends of the Earth to discover the beginning of time | Brian Keating | TEDxSanDiego


Translator: Allison Servey
Reviewer: Denise RQ This is Stephen Hawking, arguably, the most famous scientist
of our generation. Yet, what if I told you Stephen Hawking
was imprisoned for heresy. (Cell door closes) Thought crimes, crimes against the state. Clearly, this would be
seemingly ridiculous that such a thing could happen. But this is exactly what happened to the greatest scientific genius
of his age: Galileo. 381 years ago, Galileo was the first person
to give evidence that we are not the only planet
in our Solar System, and we are not, in fact, the center of the Solar System
nor are we the center of the Universe. In fact, the Earth was
just one of many planets. He did that by observing
the planet Jupiter. Through a very revolutionary instrument
called the refracting telescope, he was able to glimpse
that Jupiter had moons, and these moons orbited not around
the Earth, but around Jupiter itself. This was incontrovertible proof that the Earth was not the center
of the Solar System, which was effectively
the universe back then. He did it all with an amazing scientific instrument,
a revolutionary product, that as Steve Jobs would say,
“just fits in your pocket,” the refracting telescope. This is Galileo’s 450th birthday year, and tonight we’re going to throw him
a little celebration party. Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter,
and in doing so, pricked our cosmic egos. He demonstrated that the Earth
is not the center of it all. And tonight, I’m going to invite you
to come along with me on a journey
to the very bottom of the world, A journey which has the potential,
perhaps, to make discoveries equal to the discoveries
that Galileo made. So what Galileo did got him
into a little bit of trouble. This is Galileo
in front of the Holy Office. Holy Office is a euphemism
for the Inquisition. Don’t you love euphemisms like this? I do. It’s like calling the IRS
the ‘Money Donation Service’. (Laughter) He was imprisoned
for the remaining nine years of his life for thought crimes. And what he was able to do
was so amazing and revolutionary, and he did it with a simple instrument. But he used it in a powerful way. And I claim this instrument changed
our understanding of the universe more than any other scientific instrument. This is the Earth at night
looking out on the stars, which we now know
are but pinpricks of light to our eyes, the 2 refracting telescopes in our heads. With our eyes, we can look out
in space and look out in time, and we can glimpse these distant objects. We now know that these objects represent
suns that harbor planets and moons, and these suns are just one of hundreds
of billions in our galaxy alone. And guess what. There are hundreds of billions
of galaxies as well in the universe. Galileo unseated us
as the center of it all, and with the telescope, magnified if you will,
to mix metaphors, our insignificance. So, tonight what will be interesting
to discover along with me is what you would see
if you had microwave eyes. If you had microwave eyes, instead of seeing pinpricks
of light from stars, you’d see this magnificent tapestry that represents the pattern of photons
coming to us from the Big Bang itself, 13.8 billion years ago. It’s an amazing image that captures the properties of matter,
dark matter, energy, dark energy, throughout our entire cosmic history. With our eyes and our brains, we can attempt to make an image
of the infant universe. To what can this be compared? I like to think of what would be
the earliest possible baby photograph that you could possibly take. That would be the image
of this object over here. So I’m a doctor. I’m not a real doctor
according to my brothers (Laughter) but I still prescribe medicine. No, I don’t do that. This is called a blastocyst. It’s a collection of cells,
about 200 to 400 cells, that represent the human embryo
roughly 1,000 seconds after conception. 1,000 seconds
after your own personal big bang. (Laughter) This blastocyst is
an amazingly complicated structure. Imagine if we were trying to unravel
what your blastocyst looked like. I can’t take a picture
of every one of you in the audience, but I can take the most famous person on
the planet: our president, Barack Obama. Imagine if I was trying to use
this image of Barack today to get an image of baby Barack;
baby Barack’s blastocyst. (Laughter) This only represents an extrapolation
in time by a factor of a million. From 2 billion seconds to 1,000 seconds. And yet, what we’re trying to do
with our instrument at the South Pole is uncover what the universe looked like a trillionth of a trillionth
of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. The so-called inflationary universe,
the spark that ignited the Big Bang. Inflation takes place in a vast landscape,
potentially, called the multiverse, in which multiple universes could exist. We’re trying to take this image
of the night sky, in microwaves, and transform from it an image of what the baby universe
must have looked like. My colleagues at NASA have done
a wonderful job of rendering this image as if you were an omniscient deity
looking down on our universe, and seeing it from a distance. This is the pattern that you’d see,
on this beach ball. This image inspired me to unravel
what caused these colorful fluctuations. What could break the symmetry,
the isotropy of the early universe, filled with chaos and randomness. What could possibly be
the origin of those fluctuations is what has driven me in my career. In 2001, I pitched an idea to my advisor
at Cal Tech, Professor Andrew Lange, who believed in me, thank God, because it was a crazy and risky thing
to do as a young postdoc toiling away. He said: “Brian, this might be
the ultimate cosmic wild goose chase, but we should do it.” And we did do it. We assembled an amazing team of about two dozen scientists
from around the world, led by Professor John Kovac
at Harvard University. And with this amazing team,
we were able to construct a beautiful instrument
that’s compact yet powerful. It doesn’t quite fit in your pocket – it’s about five feet long and weighs
about ten thousand pounds – but Galileo would recognize it. If your pocket holds
an iPhone 6, maybe it does. (Laughter) Instead of glass lenses that Galileo
used to peer out into the universe, our telescope uses
this Frisbee-looking device. It’s a lens made
of high-density polyethylene, that’s nothing more than the same material
used to make milk jugs. And just as you can feel heat
or cold through a milk jug, microwave heat passes
beautifully through transparent-to-microwaves
plastics like this. This is the simple part of our telescope. The complicated part of our telescope,
which you can’t buy in the supermarket, are these amazing detectors, designed by Professor Chao-Lin Kuo
at Stanford University, and built by Jamie Bock,
Professor at Cal Tech, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These are the most sensitive
detectors ever made, and they are made of exotic materials
that operate near absolute zero called superconductors. With this amazing technology, we decided we needed to build
an instrument so powerful that we would need an observatory just
as good as our telescope was powerful. For microwaves,
if you’re looking for heat, you don’t want to build a telescope
here in sunny San Diego. You want to build it
at the bottom of the world, Antarctica. Antarctica is the coldest, driest,
highest continent on earth, and it’s ideal for obtaining images
of the infant universe. We did build this telescope,
and we shipped it down to the South Pole. The South Pole was the site
of the Space Race of the 1900s. It was first reached in 1911
by Roald Amundsen, and a month later by Robert Scott. It was the moon race of its time. And sort of like our Moon race, nobody went back to the South Pole
for almost 50 years. I hope we go back to the Moon. Scott’s team famously perished,
just seven miles away from their life-giving stockpile
of food and supplies, tragically. And today Antarctica is still a place
ripe with danger, man-made and natural, as this video, grainy as it is, captures
from my last expedition to the South Pole. (Laughter) It’s still friendlier than a lot
of faculty meetings I go to. (Laughter) This is the South Pole research station; the Amundsen-Scott research station
at the very bottom of the world, built by the National Science Foundation
with taxpayer money, thank you. (Laughter) (Applause) When you get there,
you have a solemn duty: to take the world’s most southern selfie,
and post it to Foursquare to check in. After doing this, you get to work. Our telescope sits in the second-most important building
at the South Pole called the Dark Sector Laboratory ;
there it is. And if you climb to the top
of the Dark Sector Laboratory, you look down, and you peer down,
and you see our instrument, our baby, that’s hoping to take these amazing images
of the microwave background radiation. This fanciful pattern is rendered
on the top of this image. It was taken by this gentleman here,
Steffen Richter, who’s a man that we pay to spend
almost a full year at the South Pole. Why? Because it’s so cold, you cannot get in or out of the South Pole
for almost a year at a time. This image captures sunset
which only occurs once per year. Six months later, the sun comes up;
One day and one night per year. How do we get someone to spend a year
of their lives at the bottom of the world? It’s simple. We told him: “We’ll pay you
75,000 USD tax-free. And all you have to do
is work for one night.” (Laughter) Tragically, just a month
after we got the data that first came out of our telescope, my advisor, my friend, my mentor,
Andrew Lange, took his own life. We still don’t understand why
he would do such a thing. I’m still angry at him, I’m still
frustrated; we miss him terribly. Everyday, we think about him, and we dedicated our results
to his memory and tribute. What do our results look like? This image, which was printed in
the Washington Post, shows our real data produced by Professor Clem Pryke
of the University of Minnesota. This image shows the swirling, twisting,
curling pattern of microwaves, that some say indicate
the very birth of the universe. A birth called inflation. Our results are powerful. They’re controversial, though,
for two reasons that I’ll explain. One reason they’re controversial is that it may be there are
other explanations for these images, rather than just the amazing image
of the infant universe. It could be that there is dust,
so to speak, on the cosmic lens cap. It might be that microscopic grains of
dust that look like this greatly magnified can get aligned by the weak
magnetic fields in our Galaxy, and form swirling patterns of microwaves,
which can masquerade as the pattern that we claim represents
the genesis of the Big Bang. The second controversy
is more fundamental. It is a philosophical, and some say,
theological controversy. It revolves around the fact
that the multiverse theory seems to mean that our Universe is
just one, potentially, of an infinite number of universes. Some that pop into and out
of existence every nanosecond, but they’re so far away from us in this infinite landscape
called the multiverse, that we can never see them. Some say that this is evidence
of how special we are; an anthropic principle stating
that we are so special that we have the conditions
that allow for the evolution of life, the evolution of stars, planets,
people, TED conferences. But it might be
that we’ll never be believed until we have evidence of another universe
colliding with our own Universe not flitting and floating
out of existence. Instead, some say:
“Wait until we have evidence that we have collided with
another universe inside the multiverse.” Well, this is pretty improbable. And I thought for Galileo’s 450th birthday
we’d throw him a little party. I’m going to throw this beach ball
out into the audience. It represents Earth. There are ten beach balls
distributed throughout this auditorium that represent other universes
in the multiverse. Let’s see if any of those will collide
with this gigantic Earth beach ball. Watch out. Now, release the universes. (Laughter) What would Galileo, my hero,
have to say about all of this? I think (Crowd sounds) I think Galileo himself, the maestro, (Crowd cheers) would be very pleased that our discoveries
made with a simple refracting telescope, have changed our view
of the universe, yet again. Let us thank the maestro
by giving him a bigger BICEP. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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