10 mysteries of the universe: What came before the big bang? | Artificial intelligence

Searing bursts of radio waves first spotted a decade ago could come from bouncing black holes – and that suggests a might have existed before ours

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Mystery: What came before the ?

IT WAS gone almost as soon as it came, so it is hardly surprising that we didn’t even notice it. Only in 2007, six years after the event, did Duncan Lorimer at West Virginia University and his student David Narkevic spot it. They were scouring archived data from the Parkes radio telescope in New South Wales, Australia, when they noticed a burst of radio waves of almost unimaginable ferocity. Lasting less than 5 milliseconds, it hit Earth on 24 July 2001, releasing roughly as much energy as the sun spits out over five days.

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Since then, we have picked up over 30 more such fast radio bursts (FRBs) – and there is precisely zero consensus on what generates them. Suggestions range from colliding neutron stars to alien spacecraft. The explanation that sits most neatly in the sweet spot between jaw-dropping and not entirely implausible, however, is one that credits bouncing black holes as the bursts’ source. As if that weren’t enough to swallow, that could also mean the cosmos did not begin in a big bang.

“Evidence is building up to support the idea that the big bang might not have been the beginning”

At the heart of this radical idea lie singularities, phenomena that arise out of Einstein’s general relativity. This theory explains how gravity arises through the warping of space-time, and thus how the …

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