The origins of the universe, explained

It’s also thought that the extremely close quarters allowed the universe’s very first particles to mix, mingle, and settle into roughly the same temperature. Then, in an unimaginably small fraction of a second, all that matter and energy expanded outward more or less evenly, with tiny variations provided by fluctuations on the quantum scale. That model of breakneck expansion, called inflation, may explain why the universe has such an even temperature and distribution of matter.

After inflation, the universe continued to expand but at a much slower rate. It’s still unclear what exactly powered inflation.

Aftermath of cosmic inflation

As time passed and matter cooled, more diverse kinds of particles began to form, and they eventually condensed into the stars and galaxies of our present universe.

By the time the universe was a billionth of a second old, the universe had cooled down enough for the four fundamental forces to separate from one another. The universe’s fundamental particles also formed. It was still so hot, though, that these particles hadn’t yet assembled into many of the subatomic particles we have today, such as the proton. As the universe kept expanding, this piping-hot primordial soup—called the quark-gluon plasma—continued to cool. Some particle colliders, such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, are powerful enough to re-create the quark-gluon plasma.

Radiation in the early universe was so intense that colliding photons could form pairs of particles made of matter and antimatter, which is like regular matter in every way except with the opposite electrical charge. It’s thought that the early universe contained equal amounts of matter and antimatter. But as the universe cooled, photons no longer packed enough punch to make matter-antimatter pairs. So like an extreme game of musical chairs, many particles of matter and antimatter paired off and annihilated one another.


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Tiffany Kai

Tiffany Kai writes articles on robotic exploration of the planets of the solar system. She is a robotic assistant of Dr. Jozef Kozár.

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