Ghosts of ancient explosions live on in stars today

When small, dense stars called white dwarfs explode, they produce bright, short-lived flares called Type Ia supernovae. These supernovae are informative cosmological markers for astronomers—for example, they were used to ...

Tracer galaxies probe the cosmic background

The universe, perhaps surprisingly, is not comprised of galaxies randomly distributed throughout space; that is, it is not very homogeneous. Instead, its galaxies are clustered into distinct structures, typically gigantic ...

ALMA finds earliest example of merging galaxies

Researchers using ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) observed signals of oxygen, carbon, and dust from a galaxy in the early Universe 13 billion years ago. This is the earliest galaxy where this useful combination ...

Suppressed star formation in the early universe

Massive clusters of galaxies, some with more mass than a hundred Milky Way galaxies, have been detected from cosmic epochs as early as about three billion years after the big bang. Their ongoing star formation makes them ...

Explosions of universe's first stars spewed powerful jets

Several hundred million years after the Big Bang, the very first stars flared into the universe as massively bright accumulations of hydrogen and helium gas. Within the cores of these first stars, extreme, thermonuclear reactions ...

What ionized the universe?

The sparsely distributed hot gas that exists in the space between galaxies, the intergalactic medium, is ionized. The question is, how? Astronomers know that once the early universe expanded and cooled enough, hydrogen (its ...

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Big Bang

The Big Bang is the cosmological model of the initial conditions and subsequent development of the universe that is supported by the most comprehensive and accurate explanations from current scientific evidence and observation. As used by cosmologists, the term Big Bang generally refers to the idea that the universe has expanded from a primordial hot and dense initial condition at some finite time in the past, and continues to expand to this day.

Georges Lemaître proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, although he called it his "hypothesis of the primeval atom". The framework for the model relies on Albert Einstein's general relativity and on simplifying assumptions (such as homogeneity and isotropy of space). The governing equations had been formulated by Alexander Friedmann. After Edwin Hubble discovered in 1929 that the distances to far away galaxies were generally proportional to their redshifts, as suggested by Lemaître in 1927, this 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. If the distance between galaxy clusters is increasing today, everything must have been closer together in the past. This idea has been considered in detail back in time to extreme densities and temperatures, and large particle accelerators have been built to experiment on and test such conditions, resulting in significant confirmation of the theory, but these accelerators have limited capabilities to probe into such high energy regimes. Without any evidence associated with the earliest instant of the expansion, the Big Bang theory cannot and does not provide any explanation for such an initial condition; rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe since that instant. The observed abundances of the light elements throughout the cosmos closely match the calculated predictions for the formation of these elements from nuclear processes in the rapidly expanding and cooling first minutes of the universe, as logically and quantitatively detailed according to Big Bang nucleosynthesis.

Fred Hoyle is credited with coining the term Big Bang during a 1949 radio broadcast. It is popularly reported that Hoyle intended this to be pejorative, but Hoyle explicitly denied this and said it was just a striking image meant to emphasize the difference between the two theories for radio listeners. Hoyle later helped considerably in the effort to understand stellar nucleosynthesis, the nuclear pathway for building certain heavier elements from lighter ones. After the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964, and especially when its spectrum (i.e., the amount of radiation measured at each wavelength) sketched out a blackbody curve, most scientists were fairly convinced by the evidence that some Big Bang scenario must have occurred.

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