The Big Bang!

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My reading list:

Bang! The complete history of the universe, by Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lintott. Second edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Big bang, the origin of the universe, by Simon Singh. First U.S. edition. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., ©2004.

The day without yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein, and the birth of modern cosmology, by John Farrell. Thunder's Mouth Press, ©2005.

Eureka: a prose poem, by Edgar Allan Poe. Originally given as a lecture in New York City on February 3, 1848, and published in book form in the same year. New edition with line numbers, exploratory essay, and bibliographic guide, by Richard P. Benton. Transcendental Books, 1973.

The illustrated a brief history of time, by Stephen Hawking. Updated and expanded edition. Bantam Books, November 1996.

Wrinkles in time: witness to the birth of the universe, by George Smoot and Keay Davidson. Harper Perennial edition, 2007 ©1993.

In the beginning was what?

It's natural to want to make some sense of it all, to find a way to explain why things are the way they are and how they got that way. I was brought up to believe in the Judeo-Christian notion of a Supreme Being who put the world together during a special creation, starting with separating the day from the night and culminating with the creation of human beings. For the first quarter century of my life, those teachings helped to shape my view of the world.

There are many other models of the world and of the universe. I like the chart in Stephen Hawking's book, which depicts several theoretical models with beautiful little drawings, including the Ptolemaic system, the Copernican system, the Strong Anthropic model, and the Inflationary Universe. Each system is an attempt to answer such questions as whether there ever was a beginning, will everything come to an end some day, or has the universe always existed.

One popular scientific model that attempts to explain the complete history of our universe is the Big Bang theory. In this scheme, the evolution of the universe began with a super-dense state or singularity, which was followed by a very long period of inflationary activity. After millions of years, the first stars formed and, after about three billion years, the mature galaxies were in place. The planets in our solar system formed more than nine billion years after the big bang. It took more than four billion years after that for human beings to see the light of day.


"As a starting point I have taken it for granted, simply, that the Beginning had nothing behind it or before it — that it was a beginning in fact — that it was a beginning and nothing different from a beginning — in short that this beginning was — that which it was."

"The smaller systems [in the Universe], in the vicinity of a larger one, would, inevitably, be drawn into still closer vicinity. A thousand would assemble here; a million there — perhaps here, again, even a billion — leaving, thus, immeasurable vacancies in space."

"There are 'nebulæ,' however, which through the magical tube of Lord Rosse*, are this instant whispering in our ears the secrets of a million of ages by-gone. In a word, the events which we behold now — at this moment — in those worlds — are the identical events which interested their inhabitants ten hundred thousand centuries ago."

* Poe is referring to the 72-inch telescope used by the third Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in Ireland.

From Eureka: a prose poem, by Edgar Allan Poe.


"[I]t is meaningless to ask just 'where' the Big Bang happened. Space only came into existence with the Big Bang itself. Hence, in those first few fractions of a second, the entire Universe we see today was in a tiny region, smaller than an atomic nucleus. The Big Bang happened 'everywhere' …."

"As we gaze at the faint light of the galaxies we are already seeing them as they were millions of years in the past … and as we contemplate the cosmic microwave background, we are literally viewing the Universe just 300,000 years after the Big Bang. We can actually see the past."

"Because of the vast distances involved, when we look at the stars we are taking part in time travel …. The Pole Star (Polaris), which many people (certainly all navigators) can recognize, is about 400 light-years from us according to the latest measurements. The light we see coming from it right now left Polaris around 1606 — and any astronomer there equipped with a sufficiently powerful telescope could look at the Earth and see England as it used to be in the time of Shakespeare."

From Bang! The complete history of the universe, by May, Moore, and Lintott.


"Go out tonight and, if you are blessed with a clear sky and little extraneous light, look deep into the heavens. If you use binoculars or a telescope, you will see a night sky ablaze, such as Galileo saw it four centuries ago, holding millions of stars and galaxies, the stuff of creation. This is what we usually think of when we talk about the universe. However, it is what you are not seeing that is of increasing importance to theorists. If modern cosmology is correct, the shining stars in the dark night sky represent less than 1 percent of the stuff of creation. Most of matter created during the big bang may be completely alien to us: invisible to our eyes and quite beyond our physical experience."

From Wrinkles in time: witness to the birth of the universe, by Smoot and Davidson.