Three Words of Wonder: Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations

The military is full of TLAs, Three Letter Acronyms, contractions of common phrases which seem intended only to convert even everyday things into an official code that outsiders can’t understand. Conversely, science is stuffed with three word phrases which people treat as technobabble, despite defining exactly what they do, representing extraordinary things with incredible compresion. For example: baryonic acoustic oscillations.

Baryons build most of everything you’ve ever experienced. Every atom consists of a technically massive nucleus made of baryons (protons and neutrons), lots of empty space, and a quantum dusting of leptons (electrons).

Acoustic Oscillations are mechanical waves, like sound, where air shakes back and forth when it’s set in motion by a drum beat or vocal cords. This air shakes the next bit of air, which shakes the next bit, which gets into your ears and shakes bits of your skull so that you can hear it and rock out to Daft Punk.

Put them together and you’ve got Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, mechanical waves shaking the matter of almost everything. Which is exactly what happened. There are waves across the entire universe, sounds which shook all of existence back when it was small, and we can still see them. Waves half a billion light years across have been measured in the clustering of everything in the universe.

Our existence is a tiny blip in a cosmic sound. All of existence is still shaken, echoes of a universal harmony. That’s how amazing this science is: even trying to describe it causes involuntary poetry.

Every scientific phrase is like this: words which specify exactly what’s going on. That’s what words are for! They aren’t technobabble, they’re teaching, encoding cosmic understanding in a few syllables. Words are how we interpret everything. Not just communication but comprehension. Our brains are built out of protein and fat but the stuff inside – you know, the us – thinks in words. Our vocabulary is the LEGO we build our own minds from. We all start with the same boring set of two-by-four bricks. Adding extra words is how we get the cool space and dinosaur sets. Every word we don’t understand is a chance to permanently upgrade ourselves. And to better understand the awe of matter itself doing a Mexican wave across creation.

Advertisements