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

Galaxies, stars and planets Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission free course icon Level 1 icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Galaxies, stars and planets

This free course is a general introduction to galaxies, stars and planets, including scale of the universe from the very large to the very small; orbits and gravity; the Solar System; the Sun and other stars; galaxies and the composition of astronomical objects.

Free course
8 hrs
The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide - Seeing the universe Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: The Open University article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

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
Sky notes: April Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: OU image library article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Sky notes: April

A guide to the what's happening in the night sky in April.

Article
The Gravitational Constant Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

The Gravitational Constant

Dr Alan Cooper explains how the gravitational constant can be demonstrated through table-top experiments

Article
Finding Asteroids In Space Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Used with permission article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Finding Asteroids In Space

Professor David W Hughes discusses the ways that astronomers detect and observe asteroids

Article
The Athens Mars plot Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

The Athens Mars plot

Attending a conference in Athens to plan future European space exploration, Dave Rothery finds that where China goes, the world follows.

Article
Venus mountain belts Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Venus mountain belts

Images provided by NASA of mountain belts on Venus

Article
Life on Mars Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA/JPL-Caltech article icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

Life on Mars

What happens if we find evidence of life on Mars? 

Article
60 Second Adventures In Astronomy: A day on Mercury video icon

Science, Maths & Technology 

60 Second Adventures In Astronomy: A day on Mercury

Find out how you'd pass the time on Mercury  - where a single day lasts two years

Video