Test: ACT Science

According to the Big Bang theory, which proposes that the universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old, all matter and energy were at one time compressed into a single microscopic point. This point then exploded outward in all directions in a rapid expansion. The expansion has continued to the present day, though it has decelerated significantly, which has allowed matter to cool to a state at which stable atomic components can form. The Big Bang theory proposes that our universe is finite in age, and since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, there exists a cosmological horizon, which is the maximum distance light or energy could have travelled since the occurrence of the Big Bang. Since the universe is still expanding, however, regions of space that are visible from our vantage point are not within each other's cosmological horizons. For example, if galaxy A is 10 billion light years away from us, and galaxy B is 10 billion light years away from us in the opposite direction, there is a total distance of 20 billion light years between them. The universe has only existed long enough for light, energy, or information to travel 13.8 billion light years between them; thus, it is not possible for any contact to have been made between the two galaxies. Yet, even these vastly separated regions of space have been observed to be extremely homogeneous—they have remarkably similar features and properties despite being so far away from each other. The question, therefore, is what caused this apparent homogeneity observed in the universe. If matter rapidly expanded outward, why does the universe have such a uniform appearance in every direction? If the Big Bang theory is correct, some explanation for this horizon problem is needed.

Scientist 1

In the current state of the universe there exist regions that lie beyond the cosmological horizons of others, and therefore cannot possibly be influenced by them. This was not always the case. At a point in time mere microseconds after the Big Bang, all of the matter in the universe experienced a period of exponential expansion, known as inflation, before the rate of expansion fell to a more stable level. This inflation led to all regions of the universe having homogeneous features even though they are not capable of affecting one another in any way in their modern state.

Scientist 2

Although there is ample evidence that a Big Bang occurred, the horizon problem, as well as the flatness problem, suggest that the Big Bang is not the full story of the inception of the universe. The horizon problem can be solved if, instead of viewing the Big Bang as the "beginning of everything," we stipulate that the expansion seen after the Big Bang was already occurring for some time before the Big Bang occurred. This marks the Big Bang as a sort of "causal horizon," which disallows us from directly observing evidence from any period beforehand. If we assume the universe is cyclic, the homogeneity of the universe is explained as the result of a continuous cycle of expansion and compression, which would naturally lead to a universe having uniform features.

1.

Which of the following, if true, would most support Scientist 2's claim?

Scientists determine that the universe is actually significantly older than previously stated, allowing a much greater time for information to travel vast distances.

Acceptance of the cyclic theory of the universe is more widespread in the scientific community.

New evidence suggests a period of rapid expansion took place shortly after the Big Bang.

New evidence casts doubt on the homogeneity of far-apart regions of the universe.

New cosmological evidence suggests a period of expansion that began prior to the Big Bang.

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