The Big Bang theory describes how the Universe began in a rapid expansion about 13.7 billion years ago and has evolved since that time. It is thought that all of space was created in this first moment.
Since the 1940s, when the modern form of the theory took shape, scientists have detected radiation from the early Universe with radio telescopes and satellites and named it cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). The CMB, which is formed of microwaves and radio waves, is considered important evidence in support of the Big Bang because it matches theorists' predictions.
Image: A computer-generated image of the Big Bang
The Universe begins in a huge expansion.
Prof Brian Cox listens to light from the Big Bang.
Prof Brian Cox is able to witness the oldest light in the Universe, by listening to its stretched wavelengths through a radio. This first light from the Big Bang has been stretched and transformed into radio waves and microwaves and is known as the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB.
Prof Brian Cox studies the colour of stars to understand how the Universe began.
Prof Brian Cox explains how we can understand the origins of the Universe through differing wavelengths of light emitted by stars.
BBC News reports from the Large Hadron Collider.
Reporting from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, David Shukman finds out what scientists hope the experiment will tell them.
Fred Hoyle explains his most important discovery.
Sir Fred Hoyle explains how he discovered that all the heavier elements are created inside stars. This was a major discovery that helped explain the lifecycle of stars.
Albert Einstein tries to link general relativity with quantum mechanics.
Albert Einstein was ahead of his time in his quest to link general relativity with quantum mechanics and develop a 'theory of everything'.
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the early development of the universe. According to the theory, the Big Bang occurred approximately 13.82 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the universe. At this time, the universe was in an extremely hot and dense state and was expanding rapidly. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. Though simple atomic nuclei formed within the first three minutes after the Big Bang, thousands of years passed before the first electrically neutral atoms formed. The majority of atoms that were produced by the Big Bang are hydrogen, along with helium and traces of lithium. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars and galaxies, and the heavier elements were synthesized either within stars or during supernovae.
The Big Bang theory offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background, large scale structure, and the Hubble diagram. The core ideas of the Big Bang—the expansion, the early hot state, the formation of light elements, and the formation of galaxies—are derived from these and other observations. As the distance between galaxies increases today, in the past galaxies were closer together. The consequence of this is that the characteristics of the universe can be calculated in detail back in time to extreme densities and temperatures, while large particle accelerators replicate such conditions, resulting in confirmation and refinement of the details of the Big Bang model. On the other hand, these accelerators can only probe so far into high energy regimes, and astronomers are prevented from seeing the absolute earliest moments in the universe by various cosmological horizons. The earliest instant of the Big Bang expansion is still an area of open investigation. The Big Bang theory does not provide any explanation for the initial conditions of the universe; rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe going forward from that point on.
Georges Lemaître first proposed (in 1927) what became the Big Bang theory in what he called his "hypothesis of the primeval atom". Over time, scientists built on his initial ideas of cosmic expansion and that this expansion could be traced back to the cosmic origin – a starting point for space and time that Lemaitre called "the day without yesterday" -- to form the modern synthesis. The framework for the Big Bang model relies on Albert Einstein's general relativity and on simplifying assumptions such as homogeneity and isotropy of space. The governing equations were first formulated by Alexander Friedmann and similar solutions were worked on by Willem de Sitter. In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that the distances to far away galaxies were strongly correlated with their redshifts—an idea originally suggested by Lemaître in 1927. Hubble's observation was taken to indicate that all very distant galaxies and clusters have an apparent velocity directly away from our vantage point: the farther away, the higher the apparent velocity, regardless of direction.Assuming that we are not at the center of a giant explosion, the only remaining interpretation is that all observable regions of the universe are receding from each other.
While the scientific community was once divided between supporters of two different expanding universe theories—the Big Bang and the Steady State theory, observational confirmation of the Big Bang scenario came with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964, and later when its spectrum (i.e., the amount of radiation measured at each wavelength) was found to match that of thermal radiation from a black body. Since then, astrophysicists have incorporated observational and theoretical additions into the Big Bang model, and its parametrization as the Lambda-CDM model serves as the framework for current investigations of theoretical cosmology.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.