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Welcome to the Cosmic Genome Australian Special

Welcome to the Australian edition of Cosmic Genome.

Welcome to the Australian edition of Cosmic Genome.  I’m Brian Cox.  I’m usually in Britain, with Cosmic Genome, its native land, but at the moment I’ve bumped into them in Perth because I’m doing some shows with, um, him. [Points to a reading Adam Spencer sat behind him.]  Science shows!

One of the things we’re talking about, actually, is the current models of the universe.  So questions like, what happened before the Big Bang?  Is it possible to ask such a question?  And if you can ask the question, what does that mean?  And what’s the future of the universe, how is it expanding?

And this is a good place to do it, because it turns out that one of the things that Australia is most famous for in science is Brian Schmidt, who won the Nobel Prize as part of the team that showed that the universe is not only expanding - I mean, he didn’t do that, that was Hubble, a long time ago - but the fact that the universe is accelerating in its expansion.  Now, that came as a tremendous surprise because if you think about it, just very simply, what should be happening is the universe…well, should…we’d expect might be happening, is the universe is expanding, it’s been doing so since the Big Bang, for 13.8 billion years, and you’d expect the universe either would be slowing down or even, potentially, on its way to stopping and recollapsing.  That’s because gravity’s an attracting force.  But, it turns out, there’s something else in the universe other than matter.  It’s got a name and it’s called dark energy and Brian Schmidt was most famous, won his Nobel Prize, for showing that there is such a thing, because the universe is observed to be accelerating in its expansion.

We don’t know what dark energy is: there are some ideas, basic theories, but it’s one of the great unknowns in physics.

And going back through history, through scientific history, you can find many things that Australian science has contributed.  One of them, interestingly, is the work done by Sydney Observatory, out there on the harbour.  I mean, it doesn’t do much frontline, or any frontline research now in terms of looking at the sky, because of light pollution, but way back, when observatories were used to synchronise time, as they were in Greenwich, then the Sydney Observatory was very important.  And one of the things it did was to participate in the first detailed mapping of the southern sky.  So many of the star atlases that you see now were initiated, I suppose, in part by work done at the Sydney Observatory.