By Stephen Hawking
The up to date and elevated 10th anniversary version
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Extra info for A Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition
Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past.
It follows from this that if a pulse of light is emitted at a particular time at a particular point in space, then as time goes on it will spread out as a sphere of light whose size and position are independent of the speed of the source. After one millionth of a second the light will have spread out to form a sphere with a radius of 300 meters; after two millionths of a second, the radius will be 600 meters; and so on. It will be like the ripples that spread out on the surface of a pond when a stone is thrown in.
Even shorter wavelengths are known as ultraviolet, X rays, and gamma rays. Maxwell’s theory predicted that radio or light waves should travel at a certain fixed speed. But Newton’s theory had got rid of the idea of absolute rest, so if light was supposed to travel at a fixed speed, one would have to say what that fixed speed was to be measured relative to. It was therefore suggested that there was a substance called the “ether” that was present everywhere, even in “empty” space. Light waves should travel through the ether as sound waves travel through air, and their speed should therefore be relative to the ether.