The universe – the movie

A timeline of the universe.

A timeline of the universe. Original by NASA; modified by Ryan Kaldari

Did you count down the seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve? Take stock of the events of the past year? Wonder what will happen in the next?

Imagine watching a movie of the history of the universe from the Big Bang to now, all 13.8 billion years of it. Not just the highlights, but the whole enchilada, sped up so its running time is exactly one year. You may sleep at night, as there are long stretches without high drama, but pay attention to the very beginning, and The End when the credits are about to roll.

As there are about 32 million seconds in a year, you can check that each second of this year-long movie covers about 430 real years. All the times given in the following are movie-times.

In the first second, the whole universe comes into existence – nobody knows how. There are many different stories. Only one story, the Big Bang theory, explains the vast amount of scientific evidence that astronomers and cosmologists have gathered. This theory made many predictions that were found to be true and has so far resisted all attempts to discredit it. This movie tells that story.

In that first second, the universe blows up, from billions of times smaller than an atom to trillions of miles across. It’s a hot soup of mostly protons and electrons. No atoms have formed yet, and it’s opaque; light cannot propagate. But much is happening in the darkness. The universe keeps expanding and cooling, and small variations in density are forming that will later condense into galaxies, stars and planets.

By 15 minutes, the universe has cooled to about 3,000 Kelvin, atoms form, and space becomes transparent. “Let there be light!” And there is.

Stars form, explode and spread heavy elements into space. New stars form out of the debris, and explode in their turn. Around Sept. 1 our sun and its planets are formed. Earth is hellish hot, but soon cools enough for water to exist. By Sept. 10 single-celled life arises. In mid-November cells stick together, and evolution takes off.

About one week before the end of the movie, dinosaurs roam the Earth. In the final minute we see the earliest human villages. Less than a second before midnight the Pilgrim fathers land in America. Atom bombs are invented only 0.17 seconds before midnight.

Is civilization just a flash in the pan, or will it last another 10 seconds – which is about 4,300 years in real time?

This is a version of an article that originally appeared in Positively Naperville.