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Cosmology 101: The Beginning

Representation of the timeline of the universe over 13.7 billion years, from the Big Bang, through the cosmic dark ages and formation of the first stars, to the expansion in the universe that followed. Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team.

Editor’s note: The article “The Universe Could be 250 Times Bigger Than What is Observable” sparked a sizable discussion among our readers, with several suggesting UT should have a series of articles about cosmology — a Cosmology 101, if you will. Our newest writer, Vanessa D’Amico, who wrote the aforementioned article, begins the Cosmology 101 series today, starting at the very beginning.

How did the universe get its start? It’s one of the most pressing questions in cosmology, and likely one that will be around for a while. Here, I’ll begin by explaining what scientists think they know about the first formative seconds of the universe’s life. More than likely, the story isn’t quite what you might think.

In the beginning, there was… well, we don’t really know. One of the most prevalent misconceptions in cosmology is that the universe began as an immensely small, inconceivably dense collection of material that suddenly exploded, giving rise to space as we know it. There are a number of problems with this idea, not least of all the assumption implicit in an event termed the big “bang.” In truth, nothing “banged.” The notion of an explosion brings to mind an expanding tide of material, gradually filling the space around it; however, when our universe was born, there was no space. There was no time either. There was no vacuum. There was literally nothing.

Then the universe was born. Extremely high energies during the first 10-43 seconds of its life make it very difficult for scientists to determine anything conclusive about the origin of the cosmos. Of course, if cosmologists are correct about what they believe may have happened next, it doesn’t much matter. According to the theory of inflation, at about 10-36 seconds, the universe underwent a period of exponential expansion. In a matter of a few thousandths of a second, space inflated by a factor of about 1078, quickly separating what were once adjoining regions by unfathomable distances and blowing up tiny quantum fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime.

Inflation is an appealing theory for a number of reasons. First of all, it explains why we observe the universe to be homogeneous and isotropic on large scales – that is, it looks the same in all directions and to all observers. It also explains why the universe visually appears to be flat, rather than curved. Without inflation, a flat universe requires an extremely fine-tuned set of initial conditions; however, inflation turns this fine-tuning into a trick of scale. A familiar analogy: the ground under our feet appears to be flat (even though we know we live on a spherical planet) because we humans are so much smaller than the Earth. Likewise, the inflated universe is so enormous compared to our local field of view that it appears to be spatially flat.

As the theory goes, the end of inflation gave way to a universe that looked slightly more like the one we observe today. The vacuum energy that drove inflation suddenly transformed into a different kind of energy – the kind that could create elementary particles. At this point (only 10-32 seconds after the birth of the universe), the ambient temperature was still far too hot to build atoms or molecules from these particles; but as the seconds wore on, space expanded and cooled to the point where quarks could come together and form protons and neutrons. High-energy photons continued to dart around, continually striking and exciting charged protons and electrons.

So what happened next? How did this chaotic soup of matter and radiation become the vast expanse of organized structure that we see today? What’s going to happen to the universe in the future? And how do we know that this is the way the story unfolded? Make sure to check out the next few installments of Cosmology 101 for the answers to these questions and more!

About 

Vanessa earned her bachelor's degree in Astronomy and Physics in 2009 from Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Her credits in astronomy include observing and analyzing eclipsing binary star systems and taking a walk on the theory side as a NSF REU intern, investigating the impact of type 1a supernovae on the expansion of the Universe. In her spare time she enjoys writing about astrophysics and cosmology, making delicious vegetarian meals, taking adventures with her husband and/or Nikon D50, and saving the world.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com February 20, 2011, 9:15 AM

    EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to say all along: They give a beginning to the universe that is 3 times the age of the earth. Then they say out of nothing everything began. The planck scale length is blurry grainy and entirely different laws of physics, and the Higgs particle is a phony ultimate particle they are searching for that if found will be broken down into smaller and smaller particles. larger structures then superclusters obviously exist if the big-bang reasoning is not applied to maintain the age of the universe. Wikipedia proves I did not invent the name Hypercluster. Wiki states the sloan great wall is part of a Hypercluster, which must not be accepted by big-bangers. We could be inside a hyperclusters surrounded by AGN radio sources and not even know it unless we could zoom out well beyond the horizon of the visible universe that dates the big-bang expansion. the universe is to deep to imagine that the big-bang explains things smaller and larger everywhere. If you believe it that is sufficient to them, since they always have all the facts, and the rest of us don’t if it contradicts their current science. When Hubble discovered the first galaxy, it made the universe so much bigger. Before that the earth was flat and the center of the universe. Today nothing can be larger then a supercluster or the big-bang is false. The facts are we can’t explain where matter or energy came from, or why there is space or not empty space or nothing.. so why limit your size and thinking to the big-bang and the largest structure size to be a supercluster? ZOOM OUT far enough and the fractal filaments have the same patterns, we are only limited by light speed to see larger structures like hyperclusters, because all hierarchy filaments attract gas and dust.

    • Olaf February 20, 2011, 12:55 PM

      I think you really need to take your pills.
      You make no scientific sense in your post.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 3:04 PM

      Wow. Thanks for the Wiki reference, but guess what, it is all a deliberate hoax!
      Both the linked references for this are bogus, and you can’t link to them. But guess what, Tully’s quote is link to the bogus Plasma Universe site, http://plasmascience.net/
      Also the person who wrote this in he Wiki is actually an anonymous IP address, no doubt a PC/EU nutter! (Could it be you Mr. Hologram? I wouldn’t put it past you, you know!)
      Everything you say here is mostly an out and out bald-faced lie!!

      I knew this lot were devious, but it shows how much damage these stinking ratbags can be.

      Note: One thing that I think is funnier though. These nutter deny the cause of galaxy redshifts, but are not the superclusters structures so far found based on these very same measured galaxy redshifts? It is either one or the other. Either the galaxy redshift are right, and the universe is finite and the big bang is correct. Else these “filaments” must be wrong and these structures are an illusion. So which of these PC ideas are you gonna dump then??

      Stupid is what stupid does, eh?

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 4:01 PM

        “Hyperclusters” is a myth created by pseudoscience frauds known as PC/EU nutters. Stinking liars making science up to support their ridiculous ideas.

        …and Nancy Aitkenson still wants us to “be nice”!!

      • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 4:41 PM

        it is interesting the name of Tully is highlighted by Mr. Hologram. He doesn’t not even mention these fictional hyperclusters at all.

        I now am beginning understand why PC/EU uses this reference, as it was used by their worshipped master, Peratt, only to support his now mostly rejected theories. Tully’s information, accessed by Peratt, now it dates back to 1986 — now twenty-five years old. Much of this data is based on measured redshifts back in 1983.
        Yet why don’t they quote the modern data from, say, the two-degree Field Galaxy Redshift Survey (2dFGRS)? This has even more redshift data, and most of this filamentary has been found to be caused by gravity infall and star formation. It is also interesting these filamentary structures are physical collections of galaxies and are NOT AT ALL the same Perrat’s predicted ‘electric’ intergalactic filaments. (which there is absolutely no observational support.) [See; http://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0612357v1 , for example.] All PC/EU is clearly a fiction placed upon another fiction.

        Isn’t it quite funny that they accuse other commenters out of not following the latest data or theory!

        I now also understand the reason for hem telling me to ‘relax’ in the open commentary here. They didn’t want me to find these deliberate deceptions and falsehoods being generated by them. All they have done is vindicated my hostility and resolve against any PC/EU.

      • solrey February 21, 2011, 5:08 PM

        Wow, the Dis-Honorable Inebriated Crumb has issues…whoda thunk?

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 3:56 PM

      Oh my. Guess what, even the wiki on the Pisces-Cetus Supercluster Complex is linked to the same stinking Plasma Universe site! (A source claiming it is the largest structure in the universe?)
      The source of this seems to be a user named Keraunos [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Keraunos and one who also claims; “This user knows The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.”, who added this reference on 20 October 2010!

      Please. Don’t believe anything at all from Wikipedia.

  • dmactds February 20, 2011, 2:59 PM

    Generally, I’m open to anything as a beginning of an explanation for things like “The Beginning of Everything”; however, sentences like, “The notion of an explosion brings to mind an expanding tide of material, gradually filling the space around it; however, when our universe was born, there was no space. There was no time either. There was no vacuum. There was literally nothing.”

    “There was literally ‘nothing'”.

    First, I have to say that I am a complete ‘layman’ and perhaps even worse….; mebbe, I’m a complete upstart know-nothing who should just butt out right now.

    I’m not gonna do that; I’m gonna say that aside from being totally unable to get my feeble, Arkansas educated brain around the concept of ‘NOTHING’ and what that would ‘BE’, if it were, indeed, possible for there to be ‘NOTHING’, how could something begin from a place that didn’t exist in any recognizably descriptive form?

    Eh?

    Regards,
    D

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 3:47 PM

      The “nothing” here has to do with quantum mechanics. It is the energies of the quantum vacuum, which can create virtual particles seemingly out of nothing , which this notion refers. What happen is the vacuum creates elementary particles of matter and antimatter, which appear for a short fraction of time, then disappear as they annihilate.
      Cosmologists believe that the universe may have come from this same effect (based on probability), where from the quantum vacuum emerged the whole universe. It might sound utterly fantastic, but it seems the quantum mechanical world works in this way.
      (It also has observable effects like the so-call Casmir effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect). Hawking, also used similar phenomena making it possible for black holes to evaporate. [It is really far more complicated than this, but it is good enough as a general explanation.]

  • Peter Clemerson February 20, 2011, 7:01 PM

    I fear that Vanessa needs to moderate this site prior to allowing a post to appear. Although unfortunate, this would prevent such a large proportion of it becoming a battleground between those who sabotage it (Hon. Salacious B. Crumb, HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com) with their nonsense posts and those who feel obliged to reply to them.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 20, 2011, 7:17 PM

      I have sabotaged nothing here nor do I speak nonsense.
      If you bothered to read what I’ve said, then we would never have to bother correcting the nonsense from the real science in the first place!
      What would you prefer? Read deliberate deceptions to fool novices into reading false science, or expose the truth?
      Remove all PC/EU from Universe Today, and there would not be the problem in the first place!

  • HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com February 21, 2011, 4:37 PM

    WIKIpedia is reputable science ! Nothing Karaunos submitted involves anything to do with space science. I checked all his submissions, and all the Wikipedia facts about superclusters, galaxy_filament, cosmic filament, hypercluster, etc are copyright and bound to Wikipedia, and have no author whatsoever listed as its author ! Naturally only discredit and outright falsity for that plasma website here, the laymen can have a better cosmology themselves, then the one presented to them for a big-bang beginning from nothing. Moderate a site? Just the last 3 months, did comments appear in the search engines. It draws them here and they get refuted, and either stay here or check out my evidence. I’ve quit cussing Crumb out, for Nancy. I believe the redshifts of expansion could be related to superclusters not being gravitational bound structures, as Wiki states on superclusters at the beginning. No way can anyone modify or change the wiki dictionary, nor refute real findings of the actual whim found by and reaffirmed by Taotao Fang spanning 350 million light years along the sculptor wall supercluster.

  • HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com February 21, 2011, 8:48 PM

    Taotao Fang wrote in 2005 “the cosmic web structure is where overdense filaments connect collapsed regions such as groups and clusters of galaxies. These filaments, named WHIM or Warm-hot intergalactic medium produce detectable UV and X-ray bands.” It seems obvious as a scientist that he like others cannot disagree with the big-bang theory or only hear criticism rather then compliments. obviously this cosmic web of falsely labelled dark matter is actually plasma filaments having a fractal filamentary structure. Rantsev-Kartinov and Parigger wrote “The rupture of dark matter filaments may cause FORMATION OF COSMIC OBJECTS INCLUDING BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE ! Some big-bangers say that dark matter existed before the big-bang !
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1003.5016v1

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 21, 2011, 9:56 PM

      Again you show your ignorance.

      When talking about large astronomical objects, he says;

      “Image analysis of many space objects leads to the conclusion that the majority of observable objects in the universe are luminous ends of almost invisible (or almost completely transparent) formations of filaments. The structure of these filaments can be seen and/or inferred only near their luminous ends.”

      So where is all the observational evidence for all this? If they are almost invisible and almost completely transparent, then where are the observations to support it? It is still merely supposition that it extends over a large range of spatial scales.

      (Also why doesn’t he mention hyperclusters?)

    • Jon Hanford February 22, 2011, 6:01 AM

      Oh the nonsense that occasionally makes it to the arXiv. The illustrations that accompany that paper are *hilarious*. Of course the paper is similarly nonsensical. I maintain a small but growing collection of crackpot astronomy papers and this one is definitely a keeper! :D

  • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 21, 2011, 9:36 PM

    “WIKIpedia is reputable science.” Eh? No it is not. It is an encyclopaedia whose words are added by those editing the articles.
    Also “Hyperclusters” are a fiction deliberately made to deceive. As for the rest of what you say is plainly wrong and unsubstantiated. Sorry, you are well out of your depth here, and it is perfectly clear you are no scientist.

  • HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com February 23, 2011, 4:51 PM

    Fang saw the filaments twice by precise line of sight view along their length that extended 350 million light years from a huge black hole that aligns with the sculptor wall of galaxies supercluster. How many times do I have to say this? It is a FACT discovery, and like the solar system ribbon, is one of the top 10 discoveries of the century in cosmology. They measure the densities and temperatures of the WHIM, and know that oxygen atoms absorbs the black hole x-rays emitted, forming a fractal O WHIM filament. It just seems like a bunch of nonsense to people who do not want to see the future advancements of science ahead for us. Here are facts too, the IGM contains 90 % of the baryonic or normal matter , only 10% is in galaxies ! Some of this matter about 25% is in the highly transparent WHIM at several million degrees kelvin, and when filaments extend a billion light years in the sloan great wall, dust and gas in the IGM will form galaxy clusters near these hot knots where they intersect. Since these filaments have been found, and we know much more matter is not in the constituent galaxies, then these filaments contact other galaxies and move relativistic charged ions up to light speed but not faster. It is all entirely logical.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 27, 2011, 6:40 PM

      Oh you very silly boy! Desperately slipping in the last word is the slim hope that someone might listen to your confused nonsense.
      Let’s face it. You ignorantly don’t know what you are talking about, and we have already proven you’ll happily declare falsehoods and ignore whole swathes of theory and supporting evidence. Again. There is no observation of the WHIM filament. They think they have they might have found an example but there is no follow up observation, nor is there evidence of any others, and worst it might be something else.
      Fractal. Now thats a new one; another fiction just like Ben Opp’s not believing in the Big Bang! [He, by the way, thinks your a ‘mentally unstable fool’. No being a cruel person, i won’t expose you to the truth.]
      Again. The so-called WHIM we have possibly observed is not “several millions of kelvin”, but in fact is in the order of 10000 to 100000K, observed not in the X-ray but in the UV. (You have got the guts to admit you are wrong, so you pretend it is all a fiction, and just ignore it! (Why is that?))
      If this is true, then everything else that follows in unsubstantiated claptrap. The true is we are still uncertain of early galaxy formation, and the reason you and clearly of the mark is your open denials of the nature of redshifts, the expanding universe, shows you have absolutely not idea what you are rabbeting on about.
      The only FACT here is that you are probably have problems, so we shouldn’t really upset you. Sorry. The only thing entirely illogical is nearly everything you say is quite wrong and twisted and just doesn’t make any sense. Science is clearly not your string suit. Pity.

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 27, 2011, 9:07 PM

      He is the ultimate quote that buries you and other EU/PC nutters views;

      “On very large scales, the observed Universe is well approximated by a homogeneous and isotropic Friedmann solution of Einstein’s equations. This is best verified by the isotropy of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The small fluctuations observed in the CMB temperature are fully accounted for by the standard model of structure formation from small initial fluctuations which are generated during an inflationary phase. Nevertheless, these small fluctuations are often used to limit other processes or components which may be present in the early Universe, like e.g. a primordial magnetic field.
      The generation of the magnetic fields observed in galaxies and clusters is still unclear. It has been shown that phase transitions in the early Universe, even if they do generate magnetic fields, have not enough power on large scale to explain the observed large scale coherent fields”

      Nothing better than slaying all this nonsense with the basic fact… (Please feel free to quote this ad nauseam every time one of these total crazies like Mr. Hologram et.al. comes along!!)

      Reference
      Adamek, J., et.al. “A large scale coherent magnetic field: interactions with free streaming particles and limits from the CMB.http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.5235

  • HOLOGRAPHICGALAXY.blogspot.com February 27, 2011, 9:10 PM

    The Ultimate Universe Model is on my website, with explanations and beautiful supportive PHOTOS of filaments that intersect and form Holographic Structures! The Filamentary Fractal Hierarchy of Unified Black Holes AGN from atoms-stars-galaxies-clusters-superclusters-hyperclusters-forever-all have connecting filaments. The sun shoots out x-ray jets from its north polar hole like galaxies and atoms do. Streaming jets of stars shape galaxies that stream into walls, with no ultimate maximum size scale limit. this means a huge supercluster is like a common ATOM in a much larger slower time passage region of space, and an atom contains as much information with smaller particles as a supercluster ! There is no need for parallel universes nor string theories of extra dimensions, when there is no size limits to the smallest and largest particles objects structures in the universe !

    • Hon. Salacious B. Crumb February 27, 2011, 9:23 PM

      Blah, blah, blah… even more gobbledegook from the fraudulent resident nutter.
      Your website is an absolute joke. Falsehoods, total misrepresentations, unfounded notions, mixed with just utter incomprehensibility.
      Frankly, are you here to comment or here to promote you own webpage?

      The only Ultimate Universe Model is in the fantasy of a deluded mind!

      … just in case you missed it…

      “On very large scales, the observed Universe is well approximated by a homogeneous and isotropic Friedmann solution of Einstein’s equations. This is best verified by the isotropy of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The small fluctuations observed in the CMB temperature are fully accounted for by the standard model of structure formation from small initial fluctuations which are generated during an inflationary phase. Nevertheless, these small fluctuations are often used to limit other processes or components which may be present in the early Universe, like e.g. a primordial magnetic field.
      The generation of the magnetic fields observed in galaxies and clusters is still unclear. It has been shown that phase transitions in the early Universe, even if they do generate magnetic fields, have not enough power on large scale to explain the observed large scale coherent fields”

      Reference
      Adamek, J., et.al. “A large scale coherent magnetic field: interactions with free streaming particles and limits from the CMB.” http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.5235

      (Now go away you silly insignificant man…)

  • Torbjorn Larsson OM February 28, 2011, 1:43 AM

    Fascinating, a bona fide physics troll. Not in the interest of feeding, but just my input on the side of reality:

    this means a huge supercluster is like a common ATOM

    So much is wrong physics here, that I can take just one piece. No, a cluster has many more degrees of freedoms than an atom, easy to see considering that it is itself an aggregate of atoms. There can be no equivalence between observable conformations (“filaments”) or degrees of freedom (“information”).

    Simple overview tells us this is EU crackpottery (fascination with plasma, pattern recognition as method).

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