Thanks to the wonders of physics, astronomers can map a timeline of the universe’s history. Today, Phil’s going to give you an overview of those first few minutes (yes, MINUTES) of the universe’s life. It started with a Big Bang, when the Universe was incredibly dense and hot. It expanded and cooled, going through multiple stages where different kinds of matter could form. It underwent a phenomenally rapid expansion called inflation, which smoothed out much of the lumpiness in the matter. Normal matter formed atoms between 3 and 20 minutes after the bang, and the lumps left over from inflation formed the galaxies and larger structures we see today.
In order to understand how we study the universe, we need to talk a little bit about light. Light is a form of energy. Its wavelength tells us its energy and color. Spectroscopy allows us to analyze those colors and determine an object’s temperature, density, spin, motion, and chemical composition.
Quantum theory, the best explanation of how atoms and anything smaller behave, is so weird even scientists who have mastered it find it baffling. But bit by bit scientists are finding maybe it's not so weird as comparable behavior is discovered in our every day world. It's just that no one noticed before.
The universe is hiding something. In fact, it is hiding a lot. Everything we experience on Earth, the stars and galaxies we see in the cosmos—all the “normal” matter and energy that we understand—make up only 5% of the known universe. The other 95% is made up of two mysterious components: “dark matter” and “dark energy.” We can’t see them, but we know they’re there. And what’s more—these two shadowy ingredients are locked in an epic battle to control the very fate of the universe. Now, scientists are trying to shed light on the so-called “dark sector” as the latest generation of detectors rev up, and powerful telescopes peer deeper into space than ever before to observe how it behaves. Will the discoveries help reveal how galaxies formed? In the series finale, NOVA Wonders journeys to the stars and back to investigate what we know—and don’t know. Find out how scientists are discovering new secrets about the history of the universe, and why they’re predicting a shocking future.