Natalie Wolchover at Quanta Magazine has a fascinating article up on the cosmic magnetic field. Over the last twenty years astronomers have increasingly found magnetic filaments that have formed in the vast expanses between galaxy clusters. The question is where did they come from.
One possibility is that cosmic magnetism is primordial, tracing all the way back to the birth of the universe. In that case, weak magnetism should exist everywhere, even in the “voids” of the cosmic web — the very darkest, emptiest regions of the universe. The omnipresent magnetism would have seeded the stronger fields that blossomed in galaxies and clusters.
Some cosmologists are looking to these magnetic fields to explain the discrepancy in how fast the universe seems to be expanding vs. its predicted value.
A number of years ago I wrote an highly speculative post about the alignment of the dating of the time of the accelerating expansion and the estimated timing of appearance of life on earth. Scientists estimate the timing of the accelerated expansion to be about four billion years ago. This is, of course, in the general vicinity of best estimates for appearance of life on earth. Is this pure coincidence?
From the article:
However, once a “seed” magnetic field arises from charged particles in motion, it can become bigger and stronger by aligning weaker fields with it. Magnetism “is a little bit like a living organism,” said Torsten Enßlin, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, “because magnetic fields tap into every free energy source they can hold onto and grow. They can spread and affect other areas with their presence, where they grow as well.”
Ruth Durrer, a theoretical cosmologist at the University of Geneva, explained that magnetism is the only force apart from gravity that can shape the large-scale structure of the cosmos, because only magnetism and gravity can “reach out to you” across vast distances. Electricity, by contrast, is local and short-lived, since the positive and negative charge in any region will neutralize overall. But you can’t cancel out magnetic fields; they tend to add up and survive.
Of course, the astrophysicist is speaking metaphorically in comparing a magnetic field to a living organism, but could there be a more direct, maybe even literal, connection between life and electromagnetism? If the fields have been growing from the early universe, couldn’t the appearance of life at the same time the shift in acceleration occurred be tied to the growing universal magnetic field? Certainly the characteristic of taping into free energy sources could be used to describe life itself as well as magnetic fields. Might there have occurred a sort of phase transition that simultaneously caused the acceleration of the expansion of the universe and enabled life to form?
The idea would be that life itself is an electromagnetic phenomenon that exists as a local perturbation in the universal magnetic field and requires a certain strength of the universal field to come into existence. If consciousness itself is an even more concentrated form of electromagnetic phenomenon, then there might have been required some additional transition or growth in the universal magnetic field for consciousness to appear. This provides an unique explanation for the Fermi Paradox. If life in the galaxy could only come into existence about four billion years ago and conscious life only about a billion years ago, then life on other planets may be roughly at the same point in development as life on earth. Intelligent life elsewhere may have only recently appeared and be struggling with similar issues and challenges as we are.
Anyway, this is interesting speculation, I think, if it is nothing more.