The Beginning and End of Time?
God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: “Light!” And light appeared.
– Genesis 1: 1-5, The Message
13.75 billion years ago light emerged from the dark which the Greeks knew as ‘chaos’. All the ingredients required to build hundreds of billions of galaxies were contained in matter far smaller than a single atom. Matter was not flung into an empty void, but all of space-time came into being everywhere at once, born infinite but unimaginably squashed.
10-36 (36 zeroes after the decimal point) seconds after the Big Bang, the Universe expanded in volume by 1078 (that’s a ten with 78 zeroes) in a period that was all over by 10-32 seconds. That means the universe expanded by a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion times in one million million million million million million millionth of a second. From nothing the universe almost instantaneously became massive.
When the universe began it was unimaginably hot and dense, with no structure or matter and was the same whichever way you look at it.
In just the first second, gravity, electromagnetism and nuclear forces emerged from one super force – forces that would shape the universe billions of years into the future.
13.7 billion years is a very special time in the history of the universe.
5 billion years from now, the sun will expand by 250 times and move toward earth. If our planet survives little more than a scorched, barren rock will remain. One day every light will fade and the cosmos will be plunged into eternal night. Even after 100 trillion years of light, the vast majority of the history of the universe lies ahead – bleak, lifeless and desolate. After an unimaginable period of time of 10,000 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years, even black holes will evaporate, and the universe will exist as an unchanging sea of light.
Yet the sequence of events that will slowly but inexorably lead the universe to death is the very thing that created the conditions for life in the first place. Time was needed for the universe to cool sufficiently after the Big Bang to form matter; time for gravity to clump matter to form planets; time for matter on our planet to form complex patterns of life. In fact, life as we know it is only possible for one thousandth of a billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billionth of 1% of the lifetime of the universe. We are in that time.