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The universe is filled with galaxies and stars.

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The Universe is very large. The universe is possibly infinite in volume. The observable matter in the universe is spread uniformly over space. The universe is at least 93 billion light years across. For comparison, the diameter of a typical galaxy is only 30,000 light-years, and the typical distance between two neighboring galaxies is only 3 million light-years. As an example, our Milky Way Galaxy is roughly 100,000 light years in diameter, and our nearest sister galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, is located roughly 2.5 million light years away.

The universe.
The universe is believed to be mostly composed of dark energy and dark matter, both of which are poorly understood at present. Less than 5% of the universe is ordinary matter, a relatively small perturbation.

There are probably more than 100 billion (1011) galaxies in the observable universe. Typical galaxies range from dwarfs with as few as ten million (107) stars up to giants with one trillion (1012) stars, all orbiting the galaxy's center of mass. Thus, a very rough estimate from these numbers would suggest there are around one sextillion (1021) stars in the observable universe; though a 2003 study by Australian National University astronomers resulted in a figure of 70 sextillion (7 x 1022).

The observable matter is spread uniformly (homogeneously) throughout the universe, when averaged over distances longer than 300 million light-years. However, on smaller length-scales, matter is observed to form "clumps", i.e., to cluster hierarchically; many atoms are condensed into stars, most stars into galaxies, most galaxies into clusters, superclusters and, finally, the largest-scale structures such as the Great Wall of galaxies. The observable matter of the universe is also spread isotropically, meaning that no direction of observation seems different from any other; each region of the sky has roughly the same content. The universe is also bathed in a highly isotropic microwave radiation that corresponds to a thermal equilibrium blackbody spectrum of roughly 2.725 kelvin. The hypothesis that the large-scale universe is homogeneous and isotropic is known as the cosmological principle, which is supported by astronomical observations.

The present overall density of the universe is very low, roughly 9.9 × 10-30 grams per cubic centimetre. This mass-energy appears to consist of 73% dark energy, 23% cold dark matter and 4% ordinary matter. Thus the density of atoms is on the order of a single hydrogen atom for every four cubic meters of volume. The properties of dark energy and dark matter are largely unknown. Dark matter gravitates as ordinary matter, and thus works to slow the expansion of the universe; by contrast, dark energy accelerates its expansion.

The universe is old and evolving. The most precise estimate of the universe's age is 13.73±0.12 billion years old, based on observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Independent estimates (based on measurements such as radioactive dating) agree, although they are less precise, ranging from 11-20 billion years to 13-15 billion years. The universe has not been the same at all times in its history; for example, the relative populations of quasars and galaxies have changed and space itself appears to have expanded. This expansion accounts for how Earth-bound scientists can observe the light from a galaxy 30 billion light years away, even if that light has traveled for only 13 billion years; the very space between them has expanded. This expansion is consistent with the observation that the light from distant galaxies has been redshifted; the photons emitted have been stretched to longer wavelengths and lower frequency during their journey. The rate of this spatial expansion is accelerating, based on studies of Type Ia supernovae and corroborated by other data.

The relative fractions of different chemical elements - particularly the lightest atoms such as hydrogen, deuterium and helium - seem to be identical throughout the universe and throughout its observable history. The universe seems to have much more matter than antimatter, an asymmetry possibly related to the observations of CP violation. The universe appears to have no net electric charge, and therefore gravity appears to be the dominant interaction on cosmological length scales. The universe also appears to have neither net momentum nor angular momentum. The absence of net charge and momentum would follow from accepted physical laws (Gauss's law and the non-divergence of the stress-energy-momentum pseudotensor, respectively), if the universe were finite.

Universe elementary particles.
The elementary particles from which the universe is constructed. Six leptons and six quarks comprise most of the matter; for example, the protons and neutrons of atomic nuclei are composed of quarks, and the ubiquitous electron is a lepton. These particles interact via the gauge bosons shown in the middle row, each corresponding to a particular type of gauge symmetry. The Higgs boson (as yet unobserved) is believed to confer mass on the particles with which it is connected. The graviton, a supposed gauge boson for gravity, is not shown.

The universe appears to have a smooth space-time continuum consisting of three spatial dimensions and one temporal (time) dimension. On the average, space is observed to be very nearly flat (close to zero curvature), meaning that Euclidean geometry is experimentally true with high accuracy throughout most of the universe. Spacetime also appears to have a simply connected topology, at least on the length-scale of the observable universe. However, present observations cannot exclude the possibilities that the universe has more dimensions and that its spacetime may have a multiply connected global topology, in analogy with the cylindrical or toroidal topologies of two-dimensional spaces.

The universe appears to be governed throughout by the same physical laws and physical constants. According to the prevailing Standard Model of physics, all matter is composed of three generations of leptons and quarks, both of which are fermions. These elementary particles interact via at most three fundamental interactions: the electroweak interaction which includes electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force; the strong nuclear force described by quantum chromodynamics; and gravity, which is best described at present by general relativity. The first two interactions can be described by renormalized quantum field theory, and are mediated by gauge bosons that correspond to a particular type of gauge symmetry. A renormalized quantum field theory of general relativity has not yet been achieved, although various forms of string theory seem promising. The theory of special relativity is believed to hold throughout the universe, provided that the spatial and temporal length scales are sufficiently short; otherwise, the more general theory of general relativity must be applied. There is no explanation for the particular values that physical constants appear to have throughout our universe, such as Planck's constant h or the gravitational constant G. Several conservation laws have been identified, such as the conservation of charge, momentum, angular momentum and energy; in many cases, these conservation laws can be related to symmetries or mathematical identities.

Historical models of the universe.

Many models of the cosmos (cosmologies) and its origin (cosmogonies) have been proposed, based on the then-available data and conceptions of the universe. Historically, cosmologies and cosmogonies were based on narratives of gods acting in various ways. Theories of an impersonal universe governed by physical laws were first proposed by the Greeks and Indians. Over the centuries, improvements in astronomical observations and theories of motion and gravitation led to ever more accurate descriptions of the universe. The modern era of cosmology began with Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity, which made it possible to quantitatively predict the origin, evolution, and conclusion of the universe as a whole. Most modern, accepted theories of cosmology are based on general relativity and, more specifically, the predicted Big Bang; however, still more careful measurements are required to determine which theory is correct.

Universe creation myths.

Universe creation myth.
Sumerian account of the creatrix goddess Nammu, the precursor of the Assyrian goddess Tiamat; perhaps the earliest surviving creation myth.

Many cultures have stories describing the origin of the world, which may be roughly grouped into common types. In one type of story, the world is born from a world egg; such stories include the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, the Chinese story of Pangu or the Indian Brahmanda Purana. In related stories, the creation is caused by a single entity emanating or producing something by his or herself, as in the Tibetan Buddhism concept of Adi-Buddha, the ancient Greek story of Gaia (Mother Earth), the Aztec goddess Coatlicue myth, the ancient Egyptian god Atum story, or the Genesis creation myth. In another type of story, the world is created from the union of male and female deities, as in the Maori story of Rangi and Papa. In other stories, the universe is created by crafting it from pre-existing materials, such as the corpse of a dead god - as from Tiamat in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish or from the giant Ymir in Norse mythology - or from chaotic materials, as in Izanagi and Izanami in Japanese mythology. In another type of story, the world is created by the command of a divinity, as in the ancient Egyptian story of Ptah or the Genesis creation myth as a part of Jewish and Christian mythology. In other stories, the universe emanates from fundamental principles, such as Brahman and Prakrti, or the yin and yang of the Tao.

Philosophical models of the universe.

Aristotle and his followers.

From the 6th century BCE, the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers developed the earliest known philosophical models of the universe. The earliest Greek philosophers noted that appearances can be deceiving, and sought to understand the underlying reality behind the appearances. In particular, they noted the ability of matter to change forms (e.g., ice to water to steam) and several philosophers proposed that all the apparently different materials of the world (wood, metal, etc.) are all different forms of a single material, the arche. The first to do so was Thales, who called this material water. Following him, Anaximenes called it Air, and posited that there must be attractive and repulsive forces that cause the arche to condense or dissociate into different forms. Empedocles proposed that multiple fundamental materials were necessary to explain the diversity of the universe, and proposed that all four classical elements (Earth, Air, Fire and water) existed, albeit in different combinations and forms. This four-element theory was adopted by many of the subsequent philosophers. Some philosophers before Empedocles advocated less material things for the arche; Heraclitus argued for a Logos, Pythagoras believed that all things were composed of numbers, whereas Thales' student, Anaximander, proposed that everything was composed of a chaotic substance known as apeiron, roughly corresponding to the modern concept of a quantum foam. Various modifications of the apeiron theory were proposed, most notably that of Anaxagoras, which proposed that the various matter in the world was spun off from a rapidly rotating apeiron, set in motion by the principle of Nous (Mind). Still other philosophers - most notably Leucippus and Democritus - proposed that the universe was composed of indivisible atoms moving through empty space, a vacuum; Aristotle opposed this view ("Nature abhors a vacuum") on the grounds that resistance to motion increases with density; hence, empty space should offer no resistance to motion, leading to the possibility of infinite speed.

Although Heraclitus argued for eternal change, his quasi-contemporary Parmenides made the radical suggestion that all change is an illusion, that the true underlying reality is eternally unchanging and of a single nature. Parmenides denoted this reality as t? e? (The One). Parmenides' theory seemed implausible to many Greeks, but his student Zeno of Elea challenged them with several famous paradoxes. Aristotle resolved these paradoxes by developing the notion of an infinitely divisible continuum, and applying it to space and time.

The Indian philosopher Kanada, founder of the Vaisheshika school, developed a theory of atomism and proposed that light and heat were varieties of the same substance. In the 5th century AD, the Buddhist atomist philosopher Dignaga proposed atoms to be point-sized, durationless, and made of energy. They denied the existence of substantial matter and proposed that movement consisted of momentary flashes of a stream of energy.

The theory of temporal finitism was inspired by the doctrine of creation shared by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Christian philosopher, John Philoponus, presented the philosophical arguments against the ancient Greek notion of an infinite past. Philoponus' arguments against an infinite past were used by the early Muslim philosopher, Al-Kindi (Alkindus); the Jewish philosopher, Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph); and the Muslim theologian, Al-Ghazali (Algazel). They employed two logical arguments against an infinite past, the first being the "argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite", which states:

"An actual infinite cannot exist."

"An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite."

"An infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist."

The second argument, the "argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition", states:

"An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition."

"The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition."

"The temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite."

Both arguments were adopted by later Christian philosophers and theologians, and the second argument in particular became more famous after it was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his thesis of the first antinomy concerning time.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149-1209) criticized the idea of the Earth's centrality within the universe. In the context of his commentary on the Qur'anic verse, "All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds," he raises the question of whether the term "worlds" in this verse refers to "multiple worlds within this single universe or cosmos, or to many other universes or a multiverse beyond this known universe." He rejected the Aristotelian and Avicennian notions of a single universe revolving around a single world, and instead argued that there are more than "a thousand thousand worlds (alfa alfi 'awalim) beyond this world such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has." He argued that there exists an infinite outer space beyond the known world, and that God has the power to fill the vacuum with an infinite number of universes.

Age of the universe.

The deepest visible-light image of the universe, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

The most important result of physical cosmology, the understanding that the universe is expanding, is derived from redshift observations and quantified by Hubble's Law. Extrapolating this expansion back in time, one approaches a gravitational singularity, an abstract mathematical concept, which may or may not correspond to reality. This gives rise to the Big Bang theory, the dominant model in cosmology today. The age of the universe from the time of the Big Bang, according to current information provided by NASA's WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), is estimated to be about 13.7 billion (13.7 × 109) years, with a margin of error of about 1 % (± 200 million years). Other methods of estimating the age of the universe give different ages with a range from 11 billion to 20 billion. Most of the estimates cluster in the 13-15 billion year range.

A fundamental aspect of the Big Bang can be seen today in the observation that the farther away from us galaxies are, the faster they move away from us. It can also be seen in the cosmic microwave background radiation which is the much-attenuated radiation that originated soon after the Big Bang. This background radiation is remarkably uniform in all directions, which cosmologists have attempted to explain by an early period of inflationary expansion following the Big Bang.

In the 1977 book The First Three Minutes, Nobel Prize-winner Steven Weinberg laid out the physics of what happened just moments after the Big Bang. As with most things in physics, that certainly wasn't the end of the story, as attested by the update and reissue of The First Three Minutes in 1993.

Pre-matter soup of the universe.

Until recently, the first hundredth of a second was a bit of a mystery, leaving Weinberg and others unable to describe exactly what the universe would have been like. New experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in Brookhaven National Laboratory have provided physicists with a glimpse through this curtain of high energy, so they can directly observe the sorts of behavior that might have been taking place in this time frame.

At these energies, the quarks that comprise protons and neutrons were not yet joined together, and a dense, superhot mix of quarks and gluons, with some electrons thrown in, was all that could exist in the microseconds before it cooled enough to form into the sort of matter particles we observe today.

First galaxies in the universe.

Fast forwarding to after the existence of matter, more information is coming in on the formation of galaxies. It is believed that the earliest galaxies were tiny "dwarf galaxies" that released so much radiation they stripped gas atoms of their electrons. This gas, in turn, heated up and expanded, and thus was able to obtain the mass needed to form the larger galaxies that we know today.

Current telescopes are just now beginning to have the capacity to observe the galaxies from this distant time. Studying the light from quasars, they observe how it passes through the intervening gas clouds. The ionization of these gas clouds is determined by the number of nearby bright galaxies, and if such galaxies are spread around, the ionization level should be constant. It turns out that in galaxies from the period after cosmic reionization there are large fluctuations in this ionization level. The evidence seems to confirm the pre-ionization galaxies were less common and that the post-ionization galaxies have 100 times the mass of the dwarf galaxies.

The next generation of telescopes should be able to see the dwarf galaxies directly, which will help resolve the problem that many astronomical predictions in galaxy formation theory predict more nearby small galaxies.

Size of the universe and observable universe.

Very little is known about the size of the universe. It may be trillions of light years across, or even infinite in size. A 2003 paper claims to establish a lower bound of 24 gigaparsecs (78 billion light years) on the size of the universe, but there is no reason to believe that this bound is anywhere near tight. See Shape of the universe for more information.

The observable (or visible) universe, consisting of all locations that could have affected us since the Big Bang given the finite speed of light, is certainly finite. The comoving distance to the edge of the visible universe is about 46.5 billion light years in all directions from the earth; thus the visible universe may be thought of as a perfect sphere with the earth at its center and a diameter of about 93 billion light years. Note that many sources, including previous versions of this Wikipedia article, have reported a wide variety of incorrect figures for the size of the visible universe, ranging from 13.7 to 180 billion light years. See Observable universe for a list of incorrect figures published in the popular press with explanations of each.

Shape of the universe.

mapping the universe.
The universe as imaged by WMAP.

An important open question of cosmology is the shape of the universe. Mathematically, which 3-manifold represents best the spatial part of the universe?

Firstly, whether the universe is spatially flat, i.e. whether the rules of Euclidean geometry are valid on the largest scales, is unknown. Currently, most cosmologists believe that the observable universe is very nearly spatially flat, with local wrinkles where massive objects distort spacetime, just as the surface of a lake is nearly flat. This opinion was strengthened by the latest data from WMAP, looking at "acoustic oscillations" in the cosmic microwave background radiation temperature variations.

Secondly, whether the universe is multiply connected, is unknown. The universe has no spatial boundary according to the standard Big Bang model, but nevertheless may be spatially finite (compact). This can be understood using a two-dimensional analogy: the surface of a sphere has no edge, but nonetheless has a finite area. It is a two-dimensional surface with constant curvature in a third dimension. The 3-sphere is a three-dimensional equivalent in which all three dimensions are constantly curved in a fourth.

If the universe is indeed spatially finite, as described, then traveling in a "straight" line, in any given direction, would theoretically cause one to eventually arrive back at the starting point.

Strictly speaking, we should call the stars and galaxies "views" of stars and galaxies, since it is possible that the universe is multiply-connected and sufficiently small (and of an appropriate, perhaps complex, shape) that we can see once or several times around it in various, and perhaps all, directions. (Think of a house of mirrors.) If so, the actual number of physically distinct stars and galaxies would be smaller than currently accounted. Although this possibility has not been ruled out, the results of the latest cosmic microwave background research make this appear very unlikely.

Universe astronomical models.

Astronomical models of the universe were proposed soon after astronomy began with the Babylonian astronomers, who viewed the universe as a flat disk floating in the ocean, and this forms the premise for early Greek maps like those of Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus.

Later Greek philosophers, observing the motions of the heavenly bodies, were concerned with developing models of the universe based more profoundly on empirical evidence. The first coherent model was proposed by Eudoxus of Cnidos. According to this model, space and time are infinite and eternal, the Earth is spherical and stationary, and all other matter is confined to rotating concentric spheres. This model was refined by Callippus and Aristotle, and brought into nearly perfect agreement with astronomical observations by Ptolemy. The success of this model is largely due to the mathematical fact that any function (such as the position of a planet) can be decomposed into a set of circular functions (the Fourier modes). However, not all Greek scientists accepted the geocentric model of the universe. The Pythagorean philosopher Philolaus postulated that at the center of the universe was a "central fire" around which the Earth, Sun, Moon and planets revolved in uniform circular motion. The Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos was the first known individual to propose a heliocentric model of the universe. Though the original text has been lost, a reference in Archimedes' book The Sand Reckoner describes Aristarchus' heliocentric theory. Archimedes wrote: (translated into English).

You King Gelon are aware the 'Universe' is the name given by most astronomers to the sphere the center of which is the center of the Earth, while its radius is equal to the straight line between the center of the Sun and the center of the Earth. This is the common account as you have heard from astronomers. But Aristarchus has brought out a book consisting of certain hypotheses, wherein it appears, as a consequence of the assumptions made, that the universe is many times greater than the 'Universe' just mentioned. His hypotheses are that the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, that the Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle, the Sun lying in the middle of the orbit, and that the sphere of fixed stars, situated about the same center as the Sun, is so great that the circle in which he supposes the Earth to revolve bears such a proportion to the distance of the fixed stars as the center of the sphere bears to its surface.

Aristarchus thus believed the stars to be very far away, and saw this as the reason why there was no visible parallax, that is, an observed movement of the stars relative to each other as the Earth moved around the Sun. The stars are in fact much farther away than the distance that was generally assumed in ancient times, which is why stellar parallax is only detectable with telescopes. The geocentric model, consistent with planetary parallax, was assumed to be an explanation for the unobservability of the parallel phenomenon, stellar parallax. The rejection of the heliocentric view was apparently quite strong, as the following passage from Plutarch suggests (On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon):

Cleanthes (a contemporary of Aristarchus and head of the Stoics) thought it was the duty of the Greeks to indict Aristarchus of Samos on the charge of impiety for putting in motion the Hearth of the universe (i.e. the earth), ... supposing the heaven to remain at rest and the earth to revolve in an oblique circle, while it rotates, at the same time, about its own axis.

The only other astronomer from antiquity known by name who supported Aristarchus' heliocentric model was Seleucus of Seleucia, a Hellenized Babylonian astronomer who lived a century after Aristarchus. According to Plutarch, Seleucus was the first to prove the heliocentric system through reasoning, but it is not known what arguments he used. Seleucus' arguments for a heliocentric theory were probably related to the phenomenon of tides. According to Strabo (1.1.9), Seleucus was the first to state that the tides are due to the attraction of the Moon, and that the height of the tides depends on the Moon's position relative to the Sun. Alternatively, he may have proved the heliocentric theory by determining the constants of a geometric model for the heliocentric theory and by developing methods to compute planetary positions using this model, like what Nicolaus Copernicus later did in the 16th century. During the Middle Ages, heliocentric models may have also been proposed by the Indian astronomer, Aryabhata, and by the Persian astronomers, Albumasar and Al-Sijzi.

Universe by Thomas Digges.
Model of the Copernican universe by Thomas Digges in 1576, with the amendment that the stars are no longer confined to a sphere, but spread uniformly throughout the space surrounding the planets.

In the center rests the sun. For who would place this lamp of a very beautiful temple in another or better place than this wherefrom it can illuminate everything at the same time?     Copernicus, in Chapter 10, Book 1 of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestrum (1543).

The Aristotelian model was accepted in the Western world for roughly two millennia, until Copernicus revived Aristarchus' theory that the astronomical data could be explained more plausibly if the earth rotated on its axis and if the sun were placed at the center of the universe.

As noted by Copernicus himself, the suggestion that the Earth rotates was very old, dating at least to Philolaus (c. 450 BC), Heraclides Ponticus (c. 350 BC) and Ecphantus the Pythagorean. Roughly a century before Copernicus, Christian scholar Nicholas of Cusa also proposed that the Earth rotates on its axis in his book, On Learned Ignorance (1440). Aryabhata (476-550), Brahmagupta (598-668), Albumasar and Al-Sijzi, also proposed that the Earth rotates on its axis.The first empirical evidence for the Earth's rotation on its axis, using the phenomenon of comets, was given by Tusi (1201-1274) and Ali Kusçu (1403-1474). Tusi, however, continued to support the Aristotelian universe, thus Kusçu was the first to refute the Aristotelian notion of a stationary Earth on an empirical basis, similar to how Copernicus later justified the Earth's rotation. Al-Birjandi (d. 1528) further developed a theory of "circular inertia" to explain the Earth's rotation, similar to how Galileo Galilei explained it.

Copernicus' heliocentric model allowed the stars to be placed uniformly through the (infinite) space surrounding the planets, as first proposed by Thomas Digges in his Perfit Description of the Caelestiall Orbes according to the most aunciente doctrine of the Pythagoreans, latelye revived by Copernicus and by Geometricall Demonstrations approved (1576). Giordano Bruno accepted the idea that space was infinite and filled with solar systems similar to our own; for the publication of this view, he was burned at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori in Rome on 17 February 1600.

Universe Johannes Kepler.
Johannes Kepler published the Rudolphine Tables containing a star catalog and planetary tables using Tycho Brahe's measurements.

This cosmology was accepted provisionally by Isaac Newton, Christiaan Huygens and later scientists, although it had several paradoxes that were resolved only with the development of general relativity. The first of these was that it assumed that space and time were infinite, and that the stars in the universe had been burning forever; however, since stars are constantly radiating energy, a finite star seems inconsistent with the radiation of infinite energy. Secondly, Edmund Halley (1720) and Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux (1744) noted independently that the assumption of an infinite space filled uniformly with stars would lead to the prediction that the nighttime sky would be as bright as the sun itself; this became known as Olbers' paradox in the 19th century. Third, Newton himself showed that an infinite space uniformly filled with matter would cause infinite forces and instabilities causing the matter to be crushed inwards under its own gravity. This instability was clarified in 1902 by the Jeans instability criterion. One solution to these latter two paradoxes is the Charlier universe, in which the matter is arranged hierarchically (systems of orbiting bodies that are themselves orbiting in a larger system, ad infinitum) in a fractal way such that the universe has a negligibly small overall density; such a cosmological model had also been proposed earlier in 1761 by Johann Heinrich Lambert. A significant astronomical advance of the 18th century was the realization by Thomas Wright, Immanuel Kant and others that stars are not distributed uniformly throughout space; rather, they are grouped into galaxies.

The modern era of physical cosmology began in 1917, when Albert Einstein first applied his general theory of relativity to model the structure and dynamics of the universe. This theory and its implications will be discussed in more detail in the following section.

Universe theoretical models.

Universe theoretical models.
High-precision test of general relativity by the Cassini space probe (artist's impression): radio signals sent between the Earth and the probe (green wave) are delayed by the warping of space and time (blue lines) due to the Sun's mass.

Of the four fundamental interactions, gravitation is dominant at cosmological length scales; that is, the other three forces are believed to play a negligible role in determining structures at the level of planets, stars, galaxies and larger-scale structures. Since all matter and energy gravitate, gravity's effects are cumulative; by contrast, the effects of positive and negative charges tend to cancel one another, making electromagnetism relatively insignificant on cosmological length scales. The remaining two interactions, the weak and strong nuclear forces, decline very rapidly with distance; their effects are confined mainly to sub-atomic length scales.

Universe and the general theory of relativity.

Given gravitation's predominance in shaping cosmological structures, accurate predictions of the universe's past and future require an accurate theory of gravitation. The best theory available is Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which has passed all experimental tests hitherto. However, since rigorous experiments have not been carried out on cosmological length scales, general relativity could conceivably be inaccurate. Nevertheless, its cosmological predictions appear to be consistent with observations, so there is no compelling reason to adopt another theory.

General relativity provides of a set of ten nonlinear partial differential equations for the spacetime metric (Einstein's field equations) that must be solved from the distribution of mass-energy and momentum throughout the universe. Since these are unknown in exact detail, cosmological models have been based on the cosmological principle, which states that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic. In effect, this principle asserts that the gravitational effects of the various galaxies making up the universe are equivalent to those of a fine dust distributed uniformly throughout the universe with the same average density. The assumption of a uniform dust makes it easy to solve Einstein's field equations and predict the past and future of the universe on cosmological time scales.

Einstein's field equations include a cosmological constant, that corresponds to an energy density of empty space. Depending on its sign, the cosmological constant can either slow (negative) or accelerate (positive) the expansion of the universe. Although many scientists, including Einstein, had speculated that was zero, recent astronomical observations of type Ia supernovae have detected a large amount of "dark energy" that is accelerating the universe's expansion. Preliminary studies suggest that this dark energy corresponds to a positive, although alternative theories cannot be ruled out as yet.) Russian physicist Zel'dovich suggested that is a measure of the zero-point energy associated with virtual particles of quantum field theory, a pervasive vacuum energy that exists everywhere, even in empty space. Evidence for such zero-point energy is observed in the Casimir effect.

Universe, special relativity and space-time

Universe special relativity.
Only its length L is intrinsic to the rod (shown in black); coordinate differences between its endpoints depend on their frame of reference (depicted in blue and red, respectively).

The universe has at least three spatial and one temporal (time) dimension. It was long thought that the spatial and temporal dimensions were different in nature and independent of one another. However, according to the special theory of relativity, spatial and temporal separations are interconvertible (within limits) by changing one's motion.

To understand this interconversion, it is helpful to consider the analogous interconversion of spatial separations along the three spatial dimensions. Consider the two endpoints of a rod of length L. The length can be determined from the differences in the three coordinates and the two endpoints in a given reference frame


using the Pythagorean theorem. In a rotated reference frame, the coordinate differences differ, but they give the same length


Thus, the coordinates differences are not intrinsic to the rod, but merely reflect the reference frame used to describe it; by contrast, the length L is an intrinsic property of the rod. The coordinate differences can be changed without affecting the rod, by rotating one's reference frame.

The analogy in spacetime is called the interval between two events; an event is defined as a point in spacetime, a specific position in space and a specific moment in time. The spacetime interval between two events is given by


where c is the speed of light. According to special relativity, one can change a spatial and time separation into another by changing one's reference frame, as long as the change maintains the spacetime interval s. Such a change in reference frame corresponds to changing one's motion; in a moving frame, lengths and times are different from their counterparts in a stationary reference frame. The precise manner in which the coordinate and time differences change with motion is described by the Lorentz transformation.

Universe, solving Einstein's field equations.

Universe expansion.
Illustration of the metric expansion of the universe.

The distances between the spinning galaxies increase with time, but the distances between the stars within each galaxy stay roughly the same, due to their gravitational interactions. This animation illustrates a closed Friedmann universe with zero cosmological constant; such a universe oscillates between a Big Bang and a Big Crunch.

In non-Cartesian (non-square) or curved coordinate systems, the Pythagorean theorem holds only on infinitesimal length scales and must be augmented with a more general metric tensor which can vary from place to place and which describes the local geometry in the particular coordinate system. However, assuming the cosmological principle that the universe is homogeneous and isotropic everywhere, every point in space is like every other point; hence, the metric tensor must be the same everywhere. That leads to a single form for the metric tensor, called the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker metric.


where (r, ?, f) correspond to a spherical coordinate system. This metric has only two undetermined parameters: an overall length scale R that can vary with time, and a curvature index k that can be only 0, 1 or -1, corresponding to flat Euclidean geometry, or spaces of positive or negative curvature. In cosmology, solving for the history of the universe is done by calculating R as a function of time, given k and the value of the cosmological constant ?, which is a (small) parameter in Einstein's field equations. The equation describing how R varies with time is known as the Friedmann equation, after its inventor, Alexander Friedmann.

The solutions for R(t) depend on k and ?, but some qualitative features of such solutions are general. First and most importantly, the length scale R of the universe can remain constant only if the universe is perfectly isotropic with positive curvature (k=1) and has one precise value of density everywhere, as first noted by Albert Einstein. However, this equilibrium is unstable and since the universe is known to be inhomogeneous on smaller scales, R must change, according to general relativity. When R changes, all the spatial distances in the universe change in tandem; there is an overall expansion or contraction of space itself. This accounts for the observation that galaxies appear to be flying apart; the space between them is stretching. The stretching of space also accounts for the apparent paradox that two galaxies can be 40 billion light years apart, although they started from the same point 13.7 billion years ago and never moved faster than the speed of light.

Second, all solutions suggest that there was a gravitational singularity in the past, when R goes to zero and matter and energy became infinitely dense. It may seem that this conclusion is uncertain since it is based on the questionable assumptions of perfect homogeneity and isotropy (the cosmological principle) and that only the gravitational interaction is significant. However, the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems show that a singularity should exist for very general conditions. Hence, according to Einstein's field equations, R grew rapidly from an unimaginably hot, dense state that existed immediately following this singularity (when R had a small, finite value); this is the essence of the Big Bang model of the universe. A common misconception is that the Big Bang model predicts that matter and energy exploded from a single point in space and time; that is false. Rather, space itself was created in the Big Bang and imbued with a fixed amount of energy and matter distributed uniformly throughout; as space expands (i.e., as R(t) increases), the density of that matter and energy decreases.

Space has no boundary - that is empirically more certain than any external observation. However, that does not imply that space is infinite...(translated, original German)


Bernhard Riemann (Habilitationsvortrag, 1854)

Third, the curvature index k determines the sign of the mean spatial curvature of spacetime averaged over length scales greater than a billion light years. If k=1, the curvature is positive and the universe has a finite volume. Such universes are often visualized as a three-dimensional sphere S3 embedded in a four-dimensional space. Conversely, if k is zero or negative, the universe may have infinite volume, depending on its overall topology. It may seem counter-intuitive that an infinite and yet infinitely dense universe could be created in a single instant at the Big Bang when R=0, but exactly that is predicted mathematically when k does not equal 1. For comparison, an infinite plane has zero curvature but infinite area, whereas an infinite cylinder is finite in one direction and a torus is finite in both. A toroidal universe could behave like a normal universe with periodic boundary conditions, as seen in "wrap-around" video games such as Asteroids; a traveler crossing an outer "boundary" of space going outwards would reappear instantly at another point on the boundary moving inwards.

Universe CMB Timeline.
Prevailing universe model of the origin and expansion of spacetime and all that it contains.

The ultimate fate of the universe is still unknown, because it depends critically on the curvature index k and the cosmological constant ?. If the universe is sufficiently dense, k equals +1, meaning that its average curvature throughout is positive and the universe will eventually recollapse in a Big Crunch, possibly starting a new universe in a Big Bounce. Conversely, if the universe is insufficiently dense, k equals 0 or -1 and the universe will expand forever, cooling off and eventually becoming inhospitable for all life, as the stars die and all matter coalesces into black holes (the Big Freeze and the heat death of the universe). As noted above, recent data suggests that the expansion of the universe is not decreasing as originally expected, but accelerating; if this continues indefinitely, the universe will eventually rip itself to shreds (the Big Rip). Experimentally, the universe has an overall density that is very close to the critical value between recollapse and eternal expansion; more careful astronomical observations are needed to resolve the question.

The universe big bang model.

The prevailing Big Bang model accounts for many of the experimental observations described above, such as the correlation of distance and redshift of galaxies, the universal ratio of hydrogen:helium atoms, and the ubiquitous, isotropic microwave radiation background. As noted above, the redshift arises from the metric expansion of space; as the space itself expands, the wavelength of a photon traveling through space likewise increases, decreasing its energy. The longer a photon has been traveling, the more expansion it has undergone; hence, older photons from more distant galaxies are the most red-shifted. Determining the correlation between distance and redshift is an important problem in experimental physical cosmology.

atomic nuclei observed throughout the universe.
Chief nuclear reactions responsible for the relative abundances of light atomic nuclei observed throughout the universe.

Other experimental observations can be explained by combining the overall expansion of space with nuclear and atomic physics. As the universe expands, the energy density of the electromagnetic radiation decreases more quickly than does that of matter, since the energy of a photon decreases with its wavelength. Thus, although the energy density of the universe is now dominated by matter, it was once dominated by radiation; poetically speaking, all was light. As the universe expanded, its energy density decreased and it became cooler; as it did so, the elementary particles of matter could associate stably into ever larger combinations. Thus, in the early part of the matter-dominated era, stable protons and neutrons formed, which then associated into atomic nuclei. At this stage, the matter in the universe was mainly a hot, dense plasma of negative electrons, neutral neutrinos and positive nuclei. Nuclear reactions among the nuclei led to the present abundances of the lighter nuclei, particularly hydrogen, deuterium, and helium. Eventually, the electrons and nuclei combined to form stable atoms, which are transparent to most wavelengths of radiation; at this point, the radiation decoupled from the matter, forming the ubiquitous, isotropic background of microwave radiation observed today.

Other observations are not answered definitively by known physics. According to the prevailing theory, a slight imbalance of matter over antimatter was present in the universe's creation, or developed very shortly thereafter, possibly due to the CP violation that has been observed by particle physicists. Although the matter and antimatter mostly annihilated one another, producing photons, a small residue of matter survived, giving the present matter-dominated universe. Several lines of evidence also suggest that a rapid cosmic inflation of the universe occurred very early in its history (roughly 10-35 seconds after its creation). Recent observations also suggest that the cosmological constant is not zero and that the net mass-energy content of the universe is dominated by a dark energy and dark matter that have not been characterized scientifically. They differ in their gravitational effects. Dark matter gravitates as ordinary matter does, and thus slows the expansion of the universe; by contrast, dark energy serves to accelerate the universe's expansion.

Fate of the universe.

Depending on the average density of matter and energy in the universe, it will either keep on expanding forever or it will be gravitationally slowed down and will eventually collapse back on itself in a "Big Crunch". Currently the evidence suggests not only that there is insufficient mass/energy to cause a recollapse, but that the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating and will accelerate for eternity (see accelerating universe). Other ideas of the fate of our universe include the Big Rip, the Big Freeze, and Heat death of the universe theory. For a more detailed discussion of other theories, see the ultimate fate of the universe.

Universe definition and lexicon terms.

Universe has a variety of meanings, based on the context in which it is used. In strictly physical terms, the total universe is the sum of all matter that exists and the space in which all events occur or could occur. The part of the universe that can be seen or otherwise observed to have occurred is called the known universe, observable universe, or visible universe. Because cosmic inflation removes vast parts of the total universe from our observable horizon, most cosmologists accept that it is impossible to observe the whole continuum and may use the expression our universe, referring to only that which is knowable by human beings in particular. In cosmological terms, the universe is thought to be a finite or infinite space-time continuum in which all matter and energy exist. Some scientists hypothesize that the universe may be part of a system of many other universes, known as the multiverse.

Universe or multiverse?

Multiverse universe.
Depiction of a multiverse of seven "bubble" universes, which are separate spacetime continua, each having different physical laws, physical constants, and perhaps even different numbers of dimensions or topologies.

Some speculative theories have proposed that this universe is but one of a set of disconnected universes, collectively denoted as the multiverse, altering the concept that the universe encompasses everything. By definition, there is no possible way for anything in one universe to affect another; if two "universes" could affect one another, they would be part of a single universe. Thus, although some fictional characters travel between parallel fictional "universes", this is, strictly speaking, an incorrect usage of the term universe. The disconnected universes are conceived as being physical, in the sense that each should have its own space and time, its own matter and energy, and its own physical laws - that also challenges the definition of parallelity as these universes don't exist synchronously (since they have their own time) or in a geometrically parallel way (since there's no interpretable relation between spatial positions of the different universes). Such physically disconnected universes should be distinguished from the metaphysical conception of alternate planes of consciousness, which are not thought to be physical places and are connected through the flow of information. The concept of a multiverse of disconnected universes is very old; for example, Bishop Étienne Tempier of Paris ruled in 1277 that God could create as many universes as he saw fit, a question that was being hotly debated by the French theologians.

There are two scientific senses in which multiple universes are discussed. First, disconnected spacetime continua may exist; presumably, all forms of matter and energy are confined to one universe and cannot "tunnel" between them. An example of such a theory is the chaotic inflation model of the early universe. Second, according to the many-worlds hypothesis, a parallel universe is born with every quantum measurement; the universe "forks" into parallel copies, each one corresponding to a different outcome of the quantum measurement. However, both senses of the term "multiverse" are speculative and may be considered unscientific; no known experimental test in one universe could reveal the existence or properties of another non-interacting universe.

Other terms to describe the universe.

universe woodcut.
Colorized version of the Flammarion woodcut. The original was published in Paris in 1888.

Different words have been used throughout history to denote "all of space", including the equivalents and variants in various languages of "heavens," "cosmos," and "world." Macrocosm has also been used to this effect, although it is more specifically defined as a system that reflects in large scale one, some, or all of its component systems or parts. (Similarly, a microcosm is a system that reflects in small scale a much larger system of which it is a part.)

Although words like world and its equivalents in other languages now almost always refer to the planet Earth, they previously referred to everything that exists - see Copernicus, for example - and still sometimes do (as in "the whole wide world"). Some languages use the word for "world" as part of the word for "outer space", e.g. in the German word "Weltraum" Albert Einstein (1952). Relativity: The Special and the General Theory (Fifteenth Edition), ISBN 0-517-88441-0.

Notes and References on the universe.

  1. http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/age_universe_030103.html.
  2. Wright, Edward L. (2005) "Age of the universe" http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/age.html.
  3. http://www.sciencemag.org/.
  4. Neil J. Cornish, David N. Spergel, Glenn D. Starkman, and Eiichiro Komatsu, Constraining the Topology of the universe. astro-ph/0310233.

External links on the universe.

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