Science: The Big Bang and Beyond

Nandita Bhatnagar discusses the Big Bang, the beginning of everything as we know it and the first crucial ages of our existence. 

The Cosmos is everything we have ever known and everything we will ever know. Every single possibility of existence, every single galaxy we know or theorise, exists within it. As many of us know, our Universe theoretically ‘began’ with the Big Bang, after which point all the stars and galaxies were created. But what existed before?

Long before matter, light, planets and elements, the Universe existed as a superforce. The superforce was made up of the four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, weak force, and strong force, together forming the beginning of everything, existing in a dense, hot form before the Big Bang – the original Universe. 

13.8 billion years ago the Universe began to rapidly (Current theory debates the expansion following the Big Band occurred in only 1 x 10 ^-32 seconds), exponentially expand. Colloquially referred to as the ‘birth of the Universe’, this event was the Big Bang, an event which would become the gateway to life as we know it today. After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled before eventually reheating to a temperature at which the first elementary particles could form, like quarks (charms, stranges, etc.), leptons (electrons, etc.) and more. 

The Universe continued to decrease in temperature, and due to particles losing energy as they cool, this resulted in elementary particles like quarks and gluons combining to produce the first baryons – protons and neutrons. Further cooling (to approximately 1 billion Kelvin) caused protons and neutrons to combine into the first nuclei, an event known as Big Bang nucleation. Roughly 379,000 years after, electrons and nuclei formed the first atoms. This whole era is known as the Dark Age of space. Current models of the Universe suggest that roughly 100 million years after the Big Bang marked the first formations of stars and galaxies, and thus due to starlight, the end of the Dark Ages. 

There are many misconceptions about the Big Bang, a large part of the reason being the way in which it’s portrayed in the media. Contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang was not the beginning of the Universe. The Universe existed in its ‘superforce’ stage before then, and possibly in other stages before that as well. The Big Bang is simply referred to as the ‘beginning’ as before this point, our modern laws of Physics do not apply – they cannot function. The Big Bang discusses forces and energies, however how these forces and energies came into existence is never discussed, proving a theory of a time before the event. Another misconception regarding the event is that the Universe was ‘small’ before the Big Bang. Due to the Universe expanding after it, a general myth involving the event is that its size can be measured, whilst it was a hot, dense ball of forces. However even during this time, the superforce made up the entirety of the observable Universe, and so to measure it in this way is inaccurate. 

The Big Bang is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to our Universe, the Dark Age only a small portion of how our existence came to be. Between the end of the Dark Ages and early civilization lies 13 billion years, during which planets and stars, and then later mitochondria, cells, bacteria, and multicellular organisms came to be. Life has been around for centuries, the Universe existed before existence itself, and it will be here long after we are all gone. 

Climate change is occuring at an alarming rate, melting the ice caps and sending endangered species into extinction all over the globe. However like the Universe, planet Earth does not need us to survive, and as a species, homo sapiens will go extinct long before Earth does. It is our responsibility to save ourselves, the Universe has existed for 13.8 billion years, it will exist for many more without us, unless we make an active difference today. 

Visit https://www.nasa.gov/ for more information on space, and https://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change for information on climate change and New Zealand.