Science, Maths & Technology

Just six numbers

Updated Saturday 7th July 2007

To Professor Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, the essential nature of the cosmos and the evolution of the entire world have been determined by just 6 numbers which he explains in this article

The values of these particular six numbers are crucial. Gravity is a weak force, if it wasn't we wouldn't have large, long-lived stars like we do.

Even more important is the nuclear force which is crucial for the sun to be carefully tuned. Not only does nuclear energy from the sun keep the Earth warm, but throughout the history of our galaxy, all the atoms from which we are made have originated from the pristine hydrogen in stars, so we're quite literally the ashes of long dead stars, or, to put it another way less romantically, the nuclear waste of the fuel that made those stars shine.

Martin says that when we look around at our terrestrial environment and at the cosmos we realize that this could not exist were it not for the rather special requisite tuning in the fundamental numbers that govern it. Some people, of course, would say it's just co-incidence, and some people would think it was the work of some sort of benign creator. Martin interprets this evidence differently.

If we imagine that our Big Bang wasn't the only one, then naturally there would be some which have the requisite tuning for life to emerge, and we find ourselves in just that Universe. If there were many Big Bangs it shouldn't come as any surprise that in some of them the tuning is fulfilled, just as in a clothes shop you'll find one suit that fits you out of many in stock.

Martin tells Final Frontier that in principle, if we had a powerful enough computer we could calculate how the Universe evolved from simple beginnings, and to do that sort of calculation we'd have to put in as a starting point the recipe for our Universe, which are basically the 6 numbers which determine the expansion of the Universe, its content and the forces governing it.

In mathematics there's a marvellous pattern called the Mandelbrot set, which you describe by a very simple formula. That simple formula encodes something which displays layer upon layer of structure however much you magnify it. The mystery is why our Universe is encoded by a set of numbers and formulae which are like the Mandelbrot set.

We are in a Universe where the laws and the numbers governing it have tremendous ramifications from which our Big Bang has evolved into the complex cosmos we inhabit, where on at least one planet creatures have evolved which are complicated enough to worry about it all.

  • Martin Rees was explaining his theory to Final Frontier.

To find out more about Martin Ree's six key numbers, take a look at Martin's book, which is called Just Six Numbers.

 

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

What's On 

The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide - Seeing the universe

Most of what we know about the universe, from its age to its size to how it began in a Big Bang, has been found out through telescopes. But how far out into space and back into time is it possible to see?

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Haven't we been told there's water on Mars before?

Yesterday's announcement wasn't the first time astronomers have spoken about water on Mars - but this time, it's what's in the water that has excited NASA, explains Dave Rothery.

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Night sky puts on a meteor shower to celebrate Rosetta’s closest approach to the sun

The Perseids coincide with Rosetta making its closest approach to the Sun, explains Monica Grady.

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Rosetta and Philae – Fabulous fables and tales of tails

On the 12th November 2014, Rosetta's Philae lander will attempt to land on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We take a look at the history of comets.

Video

Science, Maths & Technology 

Discover Mercury: Why spend the money?

It's not cheap to send spacecraft to Mercury - how do you justify the expense?

Video
10 mins

Science, Maths & Technology 

Registering and Tracking Asteroids

Professor David W Hughes explains how asteroids are registered and tracked to keep watch for any potential 'Near Earth Asteroids'

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Historical comet-landing site is looking for a name

Just as Rosetta is named for the Rosetta Stone, the comet-landing site is also looking for a name that will resonate through history.

Article

Science, Maths & Technology 

Mars in 3D - NASA World Wind

Tony Hirst recommends some online applications for viewing the surface of Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Article
60 Second Adventures in Astronomy: Gaia and the Killer Asteroids video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

60 Second Adventures in Astronomy: Gaia and the Killer Asteroids

How does Gaia detect any dangerous Earth-crossing asteroids? 

Video