2.2 The Big Bang Theory

From vast nothingness
to a Universe of stars
and galaxies and our own
Earth.
This version of modern science’s origin story is condensed and interpreted from a great body of historical and scientific information.
In the beginning, as far as we know, there was nothing. Suddenly, from
a single point, all the energy in the Universe burst forth. Since that
moment 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe has been expanding — and cooling down as it gets bigger.
Gradually energy cooled enough to become matter. One electron could
stay in orbit around one proton to become an atom of hydrogen. Great
clouds of hydrogen swirled around space until gravity pulled some
atoms so close together that they began to burn as stars. Stars swirled
together in giant clusters called galaxies; now there are galaxies
numbering in the billions.
After each star burned up all its matter, it died in a huge explosion.
The explosion generated so much heat that some atoms fused and got
more and more complex, forming many different elements, including
gold and silver.
One giant star, our mother star, exploded and scattered clouds of
gas containing all the elements needed to form living beings. About
5 billion years ago gravity pulled these atoms into a new star,
creating the Sun. The leftover pieces of matter stuck to each other
and formed eight planets, which revolve around the sun.
The third planet out, Earth, became our home. It was the perfect size
— not too big, not too small — and the perfect distance from the
Sun, not too far or too close. A thin crust formed over Earth’s hot interior, and the temperature was just right for water to form on parts
of the surface. Gradually the chemicals in the water formed inside of
membranes and got more complex until single-cell living organisms
appeared, able to maintain themselves and reproduce.
For 3 billion years these one-celled creatures reproduced almost
exactly, but not quite. They gradually changed in response to their
environment.
Life becomes more complex
But they also changed their environment. They learned to burn energy
from the Sun, and they released oxygen into the atmosphere. The
oxygen formed an ozone layer around Earth that protected life from
the Sun’s rays.
Eventually cells stuck together to form creatures with many cells.
Plants and animals came out of the sea onto land and became ever
more complex and aware, until about 100,000 years human beings
evolved from a shared ancestor with the species of apes.
Humans could talk in symbols and sing, dance, draw, and cooperate
more than the other animals could. Humans learned to write and to
accumulate their learning so that it kept expanding. Humans increased
in skills and in numbers until there were too many people and too
few big animals in some places.
Then humans learned to grow their own food and herd their own
animals. Some animals learned to cooperate with humans. This gave
humans new sources of food and work energy, and they could live
in larger and larger groups. These groups expanded into cities and
empires, using more and more of the resources of Earth. Humans
collaborated and learned collectively in more complex ways; they
traveled, traded, and exchanged inventions, creating vast civilizations
of astonishing beauty and complexity.
Humans were always looking for more energy for their use. About 200
years ago we learned to use the energy from coal — trees that grew
more than 300,000 years ago, then were buried underground. Humans
learned to burn oil — animal remains buried long ago under the sea.
Using these fossil fuels, humans began to change their climate quickly,
as the gases released from burning these fuels ascended into the
atmosphere.
Now humans are in a predicament — our population is increasing
rapidly, fossil fuels are running out, we are pushing many plants and
other animals into extinction, and we are changing the climate. What
are we humans going to do next?

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