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Making It In The Big Time

By Allan Eastman

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Everything and Nothing

Depiction of the Big Bang

Pictured above is a depiction of the Big Bang Theory - the expansion of the Universe.

I must begin this with a caution and a qualification. There will be numbers in this edition of All The Time In The World and some of them are so gigantic that they can be stupefying. Rather than try to put everything into scientific notation – 10-23, 10100, etc. – I’ll be descriptive with the numbers and attempt to keep them on a level that can make sense to those like me, for whom even high school math was a headache in the making. For our more scientifically literate readers, I apologize for any oversimplification.

Also, I’ll be using the North American sense of a Billion, One Thousand Million (1,000,000,000) as opposed to the European model of One Million Million (1,000,000,000,000). A Trillion is a Million Million for our purposes.

See what I mean about the numbers already? But I promise to be gentle.

In the Beginning, there was Nothing.

Or more precisely, pretty much nothing.

Everything in the Universe, all matter, was compressed into a tiny singularity, trillions of times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. It was so small that it could be said to have no dimension at all.

And it is pointless to talk about what was outside this singularity. There was no outside. There was no Space, no Gravity, no Time.

Nothing.

But something happened.

The singularity began to expand at an extraordinary rate. In the first tiniest infinitesimal fraction of a second, there is an incredible flurry of creation. Gravity appears, and Space and Time. 10 Billion Degrees of heat is generated, producing the nuclear forces that create the elements – most importantly Hydrogen and Helium, which become the power sources for the stars.

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Within one minute, this expansion is a 1.5 Million Billion kilometers across and growing at a phenomenal rate. Within 3 minutes 98% of all the matter that will ever exist is created.

We have a Universe. And all in the duration it takes to make a cup of instant coffee.

This is the Big Bang Theory – the best scientific explanation we have for the beginning of the Universe at this stage of our human understanding. Ironically, the name “Big Bang” to describe this creation process was originally coined by a sceptic who didn’t believe in the concept at all and who was trying to make a joke out of it. Typical of human life that this joke has been popularly adopted to describe the biggest idea that we have ever come up with.

As the Universe continued to expand to a size that seems beyond imagining from our point of view, it cooled and gaseous clouds of matter condensed and compressed. From this, stars were born and gradually collected into huge concentrations called galaxies. Some of these stars threw off bits of matter that coalesced into planets that circled the stars in elliptical orbits.

Orbiting one insignificant star way out in the spiral arm of one galaxy, the third planet formed. It was bombarded by electrical storms and rocked by collisions with other celestial bodies. A primordial ooze of increasingly complex chemicals was brewed up and eventually, an incredible thing happened. Life was conceived - at first only simple single cell bacteria but gradually, more complicated organisms that separated into plant and animal forms. Life flourished in the seas that covered the planet.

At one point amphibians left the water and started living on the land. Through countless ages, life forms struggled for existence and changed form. The land masses of the planet itself shifted shape and configuration innumerable times, sometimes into one huge island floating on the molten core of the planet, sometimes breaking up into many continent sized islands. Whole species of Life were wiped out by changing weather patterns or by cosmic cataclysms.

But others emerged.

Eventually, a certain line of mammals developed with a large brain and a capacity for tool making. It developed abstract thought and language. After a few variations, one strain became dominant – Homo Sapiens. These cavemen became organized hunters, then agriculturists; they built towns and used their ingenuity to take increasing control over the resources of the 3rd planet. They developed technologies.

They became who we are – Human beings in the early 21st Century.

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