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Off by a Few Orders of Magnitude

It was only after the universe cooled sufficiently that hydrogen and other light elements could form, and radiation could escape.

While I am not an astrophysicist and thus will ignore the remaining welter of bizarre statements in Steve Lampen’s article “Touch a Supernova” (Dec. 3), one “fact” is off by roughly 19 decimal orders of magnitude.

According to accepted Big Bang cosmology, hydrogen (“and bits of a few other elements”) did not form in “the first few microseconds” but rather in about 300,000 years. Before this epoch, all matter was ionized (i.e., no atoms) and radiation was coupled to the ions.

It was only after the universe cooled sufficiently that hydrogen and other light elements could form, and radiation could escape. This radiation, “the microwave background,” is one reason we are able to study the Big Bang. Tiny differences in the polarization, intensity, frequency distribution, etc., of the microwaves are the main clues as to what the Big Bang was all about. If atomic matter formed in microseconds, we’d know a lot less than we think we know.

Also, in the table on page 18, element 110, given as Uun, was named Ds, Darmstadtium, by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry in 2003.

Richard Factor
Chairman
Eventide
Little Ferry, N.J.

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