1. THE BIG BANG / FLARING FORTH
13.7 Billion Years Ago
THE SCULPTURE IS BASED on the oriental ‘Yin Yang’ symbol, representing the unity of opposites. It is used here, in three dimensional form, to symbolise the universe bursting out of not being into being. The most popular theory among scientists for the beginning of the universe, is that it exploded into being 13.7 billion years ago. This is known as the ‘Big Bang Theory’. Since the idea was first suggested in the 1920s, it has been supported by a great deal of scientific observation. It is believed that the universe existed as an expanding cloud of gas for 1.7 billion years before the first stars formed, which is the subject of the next station.
MANY OF THE STARS in the night sky are so far away, that the pinpoints of light we see at night have taken millions of years to arrive here. This means that when we look deep into space with a telescope, we are looking into the past. By studying the ‘red shift’ of starlight in 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding and cooling. In other words, the further back in time we go, the smaller and hotter the universe becomes. The logical conclusion of this observation is that the time line of the universe can be traced back to a point of infinite density and infinite temperature, a point at which the universe exploded into being. This idea was first called the ‘Big Bang Theory’ in 1949, by astronomer Fred Hoyle who thought it ridiculous. Since then, however, it has generally been supported by observations. In the 1960s, physicists detected a background ‘noise’ of radio waves, which they believe to be the radiation released when electrons and atomic nuclei first combined to form atoms of Hydrogen and Helium, about 379,000 years after the ‘Big Bang’ 13.7 billion years ago. Physicists predicted these echoes before they were observed. Tiny variations occurred in the gravitational field of the expanding cloud of hydrogen and helium. These tiny variations would eventually cause the first stars to form after 1.7 billion years.