ABHAY ASHTEKAR remembers his reaction the first time he saw the universe bounce. “I was taken aback,” he says. He was watching a simulation of the universe rewind towards the big bang. Mostly the universe behaved as expected, becoming smaller and denser as the galaxies converged. But then, instead of reaching the big bang “singularity”, the universe bounced and started expanding again. What on earth was happening?
Ashtekar wanted to be sure of what he was seeing, so he asked his colleagues to sit on the result for six months before publishing it in 2006. And no wonder. The theory that the recycled universe was based on, called loop quantum cosmology (LQC), had managed to illuminate the very birth of the universe – something even Einstein’s general theory of relativity fails to do.Einstein’s relativity fails to explain the very birth of the universe
LQC has been tantalising physicists since 2003 with the idea that our universe could conceivably have emerged from the collapse of a previous universe. Now the theory is poised to make predictions we can actually test. If they are verified, the big bang will give way to a big bounce and we will finally know the quantum structure of space-time. Instead of a universe that emerged from a point of infinite density, we will have one that recycles, possibly through an eternal series of expansions and contractions, with no beginning and no end.