What Came Before the Big Bang?

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

Astronomers are pretty sure what happened after the Big Bang, but what came before? What are the leading theories for the causes of the Big Bang?

About 13.8 billion years ago the Universe started with a bang, kicked the doors in, brought fancy cheeses and a bag of ice, spiked the punch bowl and invited the new neighbors over for all-nighter to encompass all all-nighters from that point forward.
But what happened before that?

What was going on before the Big Bang? Usually, we tell the story of the Universe by starting at the Big Bang and then talking about what happened after. Similarly and completely opposite to how astronomers view the Universe… by standing in the present and looking backwards. From here, the furthest we can look back is to the cosmic microwave background, which is about 380,000 years after the big bang.

Before that we couldn’t hope to see a thing, the Universe was just too hot and dense to be transparent. Like pea soup. Soup made of delicious face burning high energy everything.
In traditional stupid earth-bound no-Tardis life unsatisfactory fashion, we can’t actually observe the origin of the Universe from our place in time and space.

Damn you… place in time and space.

Fortunately, the thinky types have come up with some ideas, and they’re all one part crazy, one part mind bendy, and 100% bananas. The first idea is that it all began as a kind of quantum fluctuation that inflated to our present universe.

Artistic view of a radiating black hole.  Credit: NASA

Artistic view of a radiating black hole. Credit: NASA

Something very, very subtle expanding over time resulting in, as an accidental byproduct, our existence. The alternate idea is that our universe began within a black hole of an older universe.
I’m gonna let you think about that one. Just let your brain simmer there.

There was universe “here”, that isn’t our universe, then that universe became a black hole… and from that black hole formed us and EVERYTHING around us. Literally, everything around us. In every direction we look, and even the stuff we just assume to be out there.

Here’s another one. We see particles popping into existence here in our Universe. What if, after an immense amount of time, a whole Universe’s worth of particles all popped into existence at the same time. Seriously… an immense amount of time, with lots and lots of “almost” universes that didn’t make the cut.

 BICEP2 Telescope at twilight at the South Pole, Antartica (Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

BICEP2 Telescope at twilight at the South Pole, Antartica (Credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

More recently, the BICEP2 team observed what may be evidence of inflation in the early Universe.
Like any claim of this gravity, the result is hotly debated. If the idea of inflation is correct, it is possible that our universe is part of a much larger multiverse. And the most popular form would produce a kind of eternal inflation, where universes are springing up all the time. Ours would just happen to be one of them.

It is also possible that asking what came before the big bang is much like asking what is north of the North Pole. What looks like a beginning in need of a cause may just be due to our own perspective. We like to think of effects always having a cause, but the Universe might be an exception. The Universe might simply be. Because.

You tell us. What was going on before the party started? Let us know in the comments below.

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19 Responses

  1. Aqua4U says:

    Some ask, “What made the Big Bang bang? And then again some ask, “Who made the Big Bang bang?” Why not simply ask, “WHY make the big bang bang?” I know, I know, red shift did it with Dark Matter and we are the result…

  2. Tihomir says:

    North of the North Pole – I like that comparison!
    To answer the “before the Bang” question with “subtle fluctuations in the quantum field” would then be like saying “North of the North Pole is the air of the Earth’s atmosphere, and then, for quite a while, almost nothing. After a long while, suddenly, but only if you get there quickly enough :-), you’ll encounter – Polaris”. So, the air represents the quantum fluctuations, and Polaris comparison might be the All-Originating-Black-Hole stuff. Not very scientific, since no observational evidence available, but still a nice mind exercise.

  3. Justin.Verceles says:

    This was an interesting article, although I find that the problem with making the analogy that trying to find a time before the Big Bang is like trying to find a point above the North Pole, is that there is a point above the North Pole, just not on Earth. It’s not like we keep going north, get to the North Pole and then the universe completely stops. However, besides that, I do find the idea that the Big Bang created space time and so therefore there was no time before it, a plausible explanation.

    Please, if I’m ignoring any vital information, inform me of so.

  4. Jim says:

    I have long felt that logically, the universe has to have originated from absolutely nothing. Perhaps there’s some supporting evidence in the appearance of particles popping into existence in empty space. Every other possibility leaves another question: “So, where did that come from?” It seems to me that the final answer has to be “nothing.” A corollary would be that the net total of everything there is in all of the universe(s) – positive and negative matter, energy, whatever else there may be — is exactly zero.

  5. Free.Mason says:

    I came up with this exact theory 20 years ago. I sent it to Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Hayden Planetarium. He used to respond to emails. He replied and said my theory was wrong. Oh well. Now I need to figure out the time continuum. Or is time a circle? Never starting. Never ending.

    I think Einstein’s physicist 1st wife helped him on his theories.

  6. themothergooz says:

    This theory is ridiculous. You cannot create something from nothing. There has to be something there…even at the quantum level. Keep trying, guys.

    • Jim says:

      You kind’a make my point with “There has to be something there.” So… where did that come from? You’re thinking in terms of what we think we know of physics, but who knows what the physics of absolute nothingness — no temporal, spatial or other dimensions or measures — is? Approaching it philosophically instead, any answer that involves “something” will be followed by “where did that come from?” in an infinite loop. The only answer that breaks out of the loop and resolves the question is “nothing.”

      Now back to physics. Can there be a model of absolute nothingness? If so, perhaps it will have “particles popping into existence in empty space” after it has space popping into absolute nothingness. The corollary I mentioned (the net total of everything is zero) may be testable someday, either by model or some method of quantification. As of right now, for the part of the universe(s) we do know something about, we don’t even know what the large majority of it consists of. We just call it dark matter and dark energy, and wonder what it really is.

  7. Consultofactus says:

    The very question “What happened before the Big Bang?” is illogical. Since spacetime does not exist in a singularity comparatives describing the arrow of time like “before” are non sequitur.

  8. TKO says:

    Collision of universes seems like the most logical but no one knows and might never know. We can come up with this idea and that idea but that’s all they are idea’s, theories. Mankind is capable of great things but some things are just out of our reach and probably always will be.

  9. john123 says:

    judging from the evidence we have just matter at a certain pressure and temperature

  10. Bendeguz79 says:

    Since we accepted the term “big bang” we could just as well say it was perhaps the “big nothing” prior the explosion.
    As for what’s north of the North-pole, or south pole also, it’s actually just about “nothing”. Since our Solar-system, and also our Galaxy, and as we can see all Galaxyes, and/or Nebulas (actually Nebulae for correct plural) are flat-disc-like patern. But why ? All rotating counter-clock-wise, or could say left. The Universe is ‘leftist” just as the electrons rotate left.

    But the question is really ; what could have been the source of the force/power that caused it all to go BOOM, or whatever? Yes, cause and effect is a universal physical reality. Even the “nothing” could have not gone BOOM by itself.
    As of “time” and “space”. Time and space are NOT substances, but only phenomenons . As of claiming that BIG BANG caused ‘time’ and ‘space’ to come into existence. Let’s not over-look that the BANG had to happen some-place (space or whatever you may wish to name it) and since Drs.Glasshaw,Weinberg and Salom even calculated the precise time lenght of the BOOM, so that itself was time, no matter how short but was before anything else happened after that ‘zili-second’.
    Another question; can the human mind comprehand that has no possible experiance to imagine? Even our dreams, that are the subconscious remembrance or recallection something we have some time experianced, seen or heard. Imaginations have bases from previous knowledge or experience, something seen or heard as bringing it up from the dept of memory. Like the saying; you do not know the taste of kumis until you tasted it. (If you know what “kumis” is)

  11. IanElliott says:

    According to Hawking, nothing. The Big Bang began time, so there could have been no previous moment. The problem with packing our universe into the black hole of a previous universe is that it only puts off the ultimate question, where did that one come from? If time itself is multi-dimensional, our time line could have been laid out by another one parallel to, intersecting with, or including (as a time-plane rather than a mere time-line) our own. This is actually the traditional philosophical-theological solution to the problem. It is called eternity.

    • Roger_XR says:

      The human mind is use to the concept of a beginning and an end. We mortals cannot conceive of “eternity.” However, just be cause we poor humans cannot conceive of eternity does not mean that it does not exist and in fact has existed. Some believe in God. No beginning, no end, and no causation as to where He came from. Yet this people believe easily. The thought of endless Universes one after the other without end is not so easy for the mind to grasp.

  12. Free.Mason says:

    Great stuff.

    How do we keep this topic going outside of this story?

    Can someone set up some type of blog for this???

    I think we need to discuss this stuff.

    It goes way over my friends heads. So I cannot talk with them.

    So I am looking for people to discuss this with.

    So explain to me time… What does it mean? It is all relative.

    BSE Software. MBA.


  13. endgametime says:

    I propose that on the Planck Scale, space-time (3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension) is flipped to time-space (1 space dimension and 3 time dimensions. Time-space is a strange place. If a person could shrink down to the Planck scale, space doesn’t exist here as we know it, so that an entity at this scale would perceive itself to be everywhere or anywhere.

    One dimension of time means nothing on the Planck Scale. The second dimension of time is superposition where all possibilities exist but are not fixed in the macro world as long as they remain on the Planck Scale an unmolested. This is why quantum particles appear to pop in and out of existence. The key word is appear. They appear to us humans in the macro world to pop in and out of existence because as humans in the macro world, we cannot perceive time-space. We cannot observe more than one time dimension and we cannot entirely comprehend one dimension of space.

    So where do these quantum particles pop in and out from? Well the second dimension of time of course; which we cannot see or measure directly because we are too big and our molesting of particles causes them to fix in space-time.

    This can explain quantum entanglement. When entangled particles appear to us in the macro world to be separated by great distances, these particles are really not separated at all because there is no space for them to be separated within on the Planck Scale.

    On the Planck Scale, all times exist simultaneously until the wave function collapses (particle leaves time-space) and the particle becomes fixed in space-time and we see it as popping into existence, when the particle really was there all along as a wave that we could not see because we cannot access the quantum world. When these particles fix in our macro world, we can measure them. If an entity could shrink down to this scale, the entity would see this is true.

    The third dimension is the multiverse. So more than one of the explanations in the above article may be at play.

  14. NavigatingInfinity says:

    Interesting endgametime. We experience Before-Now, Now, and Next-Now. On that different scale we’d experience Before-Here, Here, and Next-Here all simultaneously. Maybe that explains how 2 ultra-small particles (proto-particles?) that are said to be identical can be identified in multiple locations at the same time – they’re so “identical” that they’re actually the same particle. Perhaps space (distance) and time are both illusory, just “mythological” structures within our primitive minds to help us cope with being alive?

  15. Roger_XR says:

    Just suppose there had been a universe before the big bang. A Universe that had long since gone cold. Suppose that Universe had also been expanding for a VERY long time. But once it had gone cold, the only thing left was gravity. Then over a VERY VERY VERY (you get the idea) long time, the gravity pulled all that matter into a more than huge ball of matter. Sort of a black hole on steroids. But then there was something that destabilized this giant causing it to explode. If “explode” is in fact a valid concept in this scenario. Nevertheless, we call it “The Big Bang”. Then perhaps we are in the beginnings of another cycle in an endless number of cycles. Just suppose.

  16. Smithy says:

    Here is some food for thought on this topic.

    Everything in the universe seems to revolve around something else.
    Electrons have protons and neutrons
    Moon orbits the earth
    earth orbits the sun
    the solar system orbits the galaxy
    but after that, we lose sight since we just can see it from far enough away.
    Is there a center of the universe that the galaxies orbit around?
    That being said, does our universe orbit around something even bigger?
    We don’t know because we simply do not have the technology to confirm these things.
    We do not know the size of the universe. Trying to estimate the size of the universe from our perspective is like trying to estimate the size of the ocean while standing on an island, you know it’s big, but unless you can get out into the ocean or see it from really high, you don’t know exactly how big it is.
    No doubt, the universe, from our perspective, is absolutely huge.

    How did it form?
    That is a good question, and with today’s technology, we are simply guessing. Granted, some are good guesses, but since we have no way to prove a theory to be 100% correct, it’s all guesses for now.
    How about this theory.
    Time slows down as you go faster.
    Imagine the whole universe is traveling REALLY fast.
    We don’t notice the time since we are traveling with the universe, but time outside the universe may be much slower. For us, billions of years may be a fraction of a second outside the universe because we are traveling so fast.
    From our perspective, the universe is massive, but what if there were something bigger out there that made the universe look tiny. Like an electron is tiny next to a baseball.
    We also wouldn’t know it because from our perspective, the universe is huge. Much like the ocean is huge to a snail.
    Maybe the universe was created in a lab by a giant collider, and we are just a particle in that explosion. Since the particles are moving at nearly the speed of light, time moves very slow for that particle, but the particle sees it as being billions of years.

    Who knows.
    But it’s fun to theorize about this kinda stuff.

  17. Ashiq Rafa says:

    Everyone wonder about the big bang theory because, it’s the beginning of everything. Even though, it says about the beginning of our universe, we all wonder it as beginning of everything. So, if you are saying big bang occurred from black hole of previous universe, then what created that universe? Perhaps, same answer. The chain may go, but should definitely end at a beginning, right? That beginning is what we wonder as the mysterious big bang. And for that multiverse concept also, there should be a beginning. Basically, your article’s title is as “what is before the beginning?” aka “what’s north to the north pole?”. Definitly something is there before the beginning (gone out of mind?), as there is something north to the north pole.

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