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How Was the Universe Born?

The universe in an hourglass

Image: iStockphoto

By Geraint Lewis

Modern cosmology tells us that the universe as we know it arose 13.7 billion years ago in the fiery birth of the Big Bang, but our understanding of the laws of physics is incomplete and we are currently unable to answer the questions of where the universe actually came from. Cosmologists have many ideas, ranging from the reasonably strange to the extremely outlandish.

Geraint Lewis is Professor of Astrophysics at The University of Sydney.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

For much of human history we were confident about the purpose of the universe, with the Bible telling us that it was born only a few thousand years ago and that it exists as a stage for humans to play out their physical existence before moving onto a more ethereal realm.

While this view is comforting for the soul, it is in stark contrast with our present view of the universe. Over the past 400 years our position has been displaced from being the central, and most important, object in the universe to being nothing but the residents of a small planet orbiting an unremarkable star in one of more than a billion galaxies that inhabit the observable universe.

Since the early 1900s our understanding of the underlying nature of the universe has also radically changed. Written within the framework of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, we now understand the universe as being a dynamic place, expanding and evolving over time, with generations of stars being born, living and dying, and eventually enriching the cosmos with a richer mix of chemical elements with each generation.

The dynamic universe was observationally confirmed with the work of Edwin Hubble, showing that other galaxies are rushing away from the Milky Way with the more distant galaxies rushing away faster than those nearby. This is in precise agreement with our mathematical expectations, but...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.