The Big Bang theory is a cosmological model of the observable universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. The model describes how the universe expanded from an initial state of extremely high density and high temperature, and offers a comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observed phenomena, including the abundance of light elements, the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, and large-scale structure.
Georges Lemaître first noted in 1927 that an expanding universe could be traced back in time to an originating single point, which he called the “primeval atom”.
For several decades, the scientific community was divided between supporters of the Big Bang and the rival steady-state model, but a wide range of empirical evidence has strongly favored the Big Bang, which is now universally accepted.
Edwin Hubble confirmed through analysis of galactic redshifts in 1929 that galaxies are indeed drifting apart; this is important observational evidence for an expanding universe.
In 1964, the CMB was discovered, which was crucial evidence in favor of the hot Big Bang model, since that theory predicted a uniform background radiation throughout the universe.
Crucially, the theory is compatible with Hubble-Lemaître law – the observation that the farther away galaxies are, the faster they are moving away from Earth. Extrapolating this cosmic expansion backwards in time using the known laws of physics, the theory describes a high density state preceded by a singularity in which space and time lose meaning.
There is no evidence of any phenomena prior to the singularity. Detailed measurements of the expansion rate of the universe place the Big Bang at around 13.8 billion years ago, which is thus considered the age of the universe.
After its initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of subatomic particles, and later atoms. Giant clouds of these primordial elements – mostly hydrogen, with some helium and lithium – later coalesced through gravity, forming early stars and galaxies, the descendants of which are visible today.
Besides these primordial building materials, astronomers observe the gravitational effects of an unknown dark matter surrounding galaxies.
Most of the gravitational potential in the universe seems to be in this form, and the Big Bang theory and various observations indicate that this gravitational potential is not made of baryonic matter, such as normal atoms. Measurements of the redshifts of supernovae indicate that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, an observation attributed to dark energy’s existence.
One of the common misconceptions about the Big Bang model is that it fully explains the origin of the universe.
However, the Big Bang model does not describe how energy, time, and space were caused, but rather it describes the emergence of the present universe from an ultra-dense and high-temperature initial state. It is misleading to visualize the Big Bang by comparing its size to everyday objects. When the size of the universe at Big Bang is described, it refers to the size of the observable universe, and not the entire universe.