The Steady State Theory vs. the Big Bang Theory

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  • 0:02 Competing Theories of…
  • 0:43 George Gamow and Fred Hoyle
  • 1:51 Which Theory is Correct?
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Did you know that the Big Bang wasn't always a well-accepted theory of our universe? There was a competing theory called the Steady State theory. Find out what it was all about and why its proponent actually helped name the Big Bang theory.

Competing Theories of the Universe

Ideas of how our universe came to be were numerous in the 20th century. So much so that competing astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists sometimes sniped at one another as to who was right and who was wrong. You might be interested to learn that the now very famous term 'the Big Bang' was actually used as anything but a compliment early on. This is because the person who coined this term was, ironically, someone who didn't believe in its premise. Who this person is, what his ideas were, and how they differed from the now famous Big Bang theory are the subject of this lesson.

George Gamow and Fred Hoyle

Back in the 1940s, Russian-born physicist and cosmologist George Gamow proposed that the universe began with an incredible explosion. The explosion didn't occur in space, rather it was an explosion of all space. In simple terms, the Big Bang is a highly dense and very hot state from which the expanding universe began.

British mathematician and astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, and others, thought that was preposterous and thus said Gamow's idea was some ridiculous hot 'Big Bang.' Basically, Hoyle thought the entire idea of it all very silly and used the term Big Bang in a derisive manner as a result.

Obviously, because Hoyle believed that the Big Bang was a ridiculous notion, he had a competing theory called the Steady State, which can be simplified in our lesson to a theory of an eternal universe which posits that the universe has no beginning and no end.

Which Theory is Correct?

Naturally, all of this begs the question: which theory is correct and why? Well, if we were to assume that there was a hot origin as per the Big Bang, then we should be able to detect electromagnetic evidence of such an explosion as long-wavelength radiation filling up all of space. This type of radiation was given the name cosmic microwave background. If we could just find evidence for this, then we could find evidence for a beginning of our universe, as per the Big Bang.

In the mid 1960s, two scientists working for Bell Telephone Laboratories were concentrating on an assignment that would relay phone calls via satellites. For some odd reason, no matter where they pointed their antenna in the sky, they always found some sort of faint, albeit evident, background noise.

Well, it turned out that the noise they accidentally discovered was the cosmic microwave background that we would expect to be left over by redshifted photons from the time of the Big Bang. When I say something is redshifted, that implies an increase in wavelength. Why this occurred is not too difficult to explain.

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