One of the holy grails of modern cosmology is the quest to find the universe’s primordial magnetic fields. These fields, whose strengths typically are measured in units of gauss or tesla (one gauss = 0.0001 tesla which approximately equals the Earth’s magnetic field strength), are thought to arise from the symmetry-breaking events that occurred during the first split second after the hot big bang cosmic creation event.
In the biblically predicted big bang creation model1 the universe begins infinitely or near infinitely small and infinitely or near infinitely hot. This infinite or near infinite heat means that all four of the present four forces of physics (gravity, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and electromagnetism) were united into one superforce.
The universe cools as it expands from the cosmic creation event. As the universe cools, at 10-43 seconds after the cosmic creation event the one superforce separates into gravity and the strong-electroweak force. At 10-36 seconds after the cosmic creation event, the strong-electroweak force separates into the strong nuclear force and the electroweak force. At 10-12 seconds after the cosmic creation event, the electroweak force separates into the weak nuclear force and the electromagnetic force. At 10-6 seconds after the cosmic creation event, the universe has cooled sufficiently that quarks can bind together to make protons and neutrons.
At any one or more of these four transition events, a small fraction of the free energy released during the phase transitions could be converted into what later becomes large-scale (size scale exceeding 3 million light-years) magnetic fields. Currently, astronomers possess no other explanation for the possible existence of such large-scale magnetic fields other than their origination in one or more of these very early transition events. Hence, they refer to such fields as “primordial magnetic fields.”
Detecting large-scale magnetic fields in the universe and accurately measuring their properties, therefore, could give us a much more detailed picture of the early history of the universe. That more detailed picture, in turn, could yield additional insights into how the physics and properties of the universe were designed to make physical life, and advanced life in particular, possible.
There is more. If large-scale magnetic fields exist in the universe and if these magnetic fields are as strong as about 0.1 nanogauss (1 nanogauss = one billionth of a gauss) they could explain the suggestion or hint of non-gaussianity in the Planck satellite map of the universe’s cosmic microwave background radiation (the radiation left over from the cosmic creation event). They also could explain the microgauss magnetic fields that astronomers have observed in large spiral galaxies.
Such strong large-scale magnetic fields would predict an earlier first formation date for dwarf galaxies, an earlier time for the reionization of the universe, an earlier time for the formation of structure in the universe, and an earlier and more abundant formation of molecular hydrogen. Earlier and more abundant molecular hydrogen in the universe would mean that Population III stars (the universe’s firstborn stars) would be more abundant and manifest a greater range of masses. Exactly how much earlier or how different the predicted properties would be depends on the strength of these possible large-scale magnetic fields.
The quest to find and measure primordial magnetic fields is the latest holy grail of cosmology because of its potential to deliver a truly detailed big bang creation model. Since the Bible stood alone in predicting the fundamental features of big bang cosmology thousands of years before astronomers discovered these features2, Christians should be excited about the possibility of producing even more scientific evidence that the Bible got it right in its many specific statements about the origin and history of the universe.
Small- and Medium-Scale Magnetic Field Measurements
Earth’s magnetic field is approximately 1 gauss, as is the Sun’s general magnetic field. Jupiter has the strongest general magnetic field of any solar system body at about 10 gauss. The Milky Way Galaxy’s general magnetic field is about one microgauss (0.000001 gauss). Nearby spiral galaxies possess magnetic fields ranging from 1–50 microgauss on size scales 0f 10,000–30,000 light-years. In clusters of galaxies on size scales of 20,000–40,000 light-years, astronomers have detected magnetic fields of a few microgauss.
Astronomers have found indisputable evidence for magnetic fields on all the size scales they have searched except for the very largest. What they have observed, however, is that the larger the size scale, the weaker the magnetic field.
Attempted Large-Scale Magnetic Field Measurements
In 2010 two astronomers, based on the assumption that halos around the gamma-ray images of quasars and blazars are caused by intergalactic magnetic fields, determined that the intergalactic magnetic field on size scales of several million light-years is about 1 femtogauss (10-15 gauss).3 In the same year two other astronomers, based on their nondetection of billion-electron-volt gamma-ray emission from a cascade initiated by trillion-electron-volt gamma rays that they did observe in blazars, established that the strength of intergalactic magnetic fields must be at least 3 x 10-16 gauss.4
Until just a few weeks ago, the best assumption-free measurement of large-scale intergalactic magnetic fields came from analysis of maps of the cosmic background radiation. The Planck Collaboration used anisotropies in the Planck satellite map of the cosmic background radiation to show that large-scale intergalactic magnetic fields could be no stronger than 0.9–5.6 nanogauss.5 (One nanogauss = 0.000000001 gauss or one-billionth of a gauss.) The range of upper limits they determined depended on which hot big bang creation model they chose and what features of primordial magnetic fields they presumed. The POLARBEAR Collaboration based on the POLARBEAR map of the cosmic background radiation established an upper limit of 3.9 nanogauss.6
A New Large-Scale Magnetic Field Measurement
In the September 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, three astronomers established a much superior limit on the strength of potential primordial magnetic fields.7 They combined data from the four best maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation, namely from Planck, BICEP2/Keck Array, POLARBEAR, and SPTpol. Their analysis showed that intergalactic magnetic fields on size scales larger than 3 million light-years could not be any stronger than 0.91 gauss.8
Near Future Large-Scale Magnetic Field Measurements
This new upper limit for primordial magnetic fields is tantalizingly close to the values (~0.1 nanogauss) where the cosmological creation model implications get very interesting. Thus, the three astronomers project what we can expect from cosmic background radiation mapping efforts that are already underway and another one that is due to begin shortly.
Those observational efforts already underway that possess the sensitivity to measure primordial magnetic field strengths weaker than 0.1 nanogauss include the South Pole Telescope (SPT)—3G and the Simons Array. The three astronomers demonstrate that by the end of the current decade the combination of the SPT—3G and Simons Array experiments will be able to detect primordial magnetic fields as weak as 0.05 nanogauss.9
Starting in 2020, another experiment, the CMB-S4, will begin collecting data. The three astronomers show that sometime during the 2020s the CMB-S4 will be able to detect primordial magnetic fields as weak as 0.01 nanogauss.10
Detectability at the 0.01 nanogauss level is guaranteed to deliver a much more detailed big bang creation model and much better and more detailed understanding of both the early and later development stages of the universe. Sometime in the 2020s Christians can look forward to an even stronger evidential case for the biblically predicted big bang creation model and for the exquisite—that is, supernatural—fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe that make possible our existence, civilization, and the redemption of billions of human beings from their sin and evil.
- Hugh Ross, “Big Bang—The Bible Taught It First!” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 1, 2000, https://www.reasons.org/articles/big-bang—the-bible-taught-it-first. This article also appears as chapter 13 in my book, A Matter of Days, 2nd ed. (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 135–44.
- Ross, “Big Bang.”
- Shin’ichiro And and Alexander Kusenko, “Evidence for Gamma-Ray Halos around Active Galactic Nuclei and the First Measurement of Intergalactic Magnetic Fields,” Astrophysical Journal Letters 722 (September 17, 2010): id. L39, doi:10.1088/2041-8205/722/1/L39.
- Andrii Neronov and Ievgen Vovk, “Evidence for Strong Extragalactic Magnetic Fields from Fermi Observations of TeV Blazars,” Science 328 (April 2, 2010): 73–75, doi:10.1126/science.1184192.
- P. A. R. Ade et al. (Planck Collaboration), “Planck 2015 Results XIX. Constraints on Primordial Magnetic Fields,” Astronomy & Astrophysics 594 (October 2016): id. A19, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201525821.
- Peter A. R. Ade et al. (POLARBEAR Collaboration), “POLARBEAR Constraints on Cosmic Birefringence and Primordial Magnetic Fields,” Physical Review D 92 (December 8, 2015): id. 123509, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.92.123509.
- Dylan R. Sutton, Chang Feng, and Christian L. Reichardt, “Current and Future Constraints on Primordial Magnetic Fields,” Astrophysical Journal 846 (September 13, 2017): id. 164, doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aa85e2.
- Sutton, Feng, and Reichardt, “Current and Future Constraints,” 13.
- Sutton, Feng, and Reichardt, “Current and Future Constraints,” 17.
- Sutton, Feng, and Reichardt, “Current and Future Constraints,” 25.