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Bang! There goes the Universe!

I never thought I’d say this but there was a time that I wanted to be Richard Hammond. I wasn’t coveting his garage full of fast cars (though I wouldn’t complain if he gave me one), rather I was envious of his other programme where he got to study the BIg Bang up close and ‘build’ planets and universes!

I’m a “see it, touch it, believe it” type and thinking about the size of our universe and how it all began makes my brain feel like exploding… A bit like my own personal big bang. So, the Hamster getting a chance to get hands-on with the science of planet building had me more than just a little green with envy.

The Big Bang Theory captures something in our imaginations. The idea of an explosion creating rather than destroying is such a contradiction and therefore so intriguing, that whoever you are, you can’t help but be the tiniest bit curious about how we came to be.

A (very) potted history of the Big Bang

The Big Bang is what scientists call the event that kick-started our universe into existence some 13 billion years ago. For reasons we don’t fully understand, (yet!) a tiny, super-hot and excitable bubble that contained mainly Hydrogen plus a dash of Helium and Lithium, burst. This enormous bang sent super-hot gases flying in every direction through space. Just like when you over-fill a balloon with water causing it to suddenly burst.

So all the stuff in the bubble flew out. Quickly at first and then slower as the gases travelled further, settling into stars and eventually galaxies including our own Milky Way, home to our beautiful solar system.

The stars acted like molecule factories, taking the original gases and turning them into the building blocks of life. Absolutely everything we see around us came from that one moment in time – Rocks, water, trees and of course creatures! Your body and mine, as well as that of the dog up the road, are all made from the same materials found in stars. Pretty mind-blowing right?

Mind-blowing enough to be unbelievable

And if not unbelievable at least questionable! How did it happen? What was there before this Big Bang? Has it only happened once?

These are excellent questions and scientists are still tackling them. There’s loads of research going on in places like CERN in Switzerland and Oxfordshire-based JET. Scientists are literally trying to recreate that first Big Bang moment by smashing hydrogen atoms together to see what other particles we might be able to see. JET is all about applying a huge amount of heat to make hydrogen atoms fuse together – basically recreating the same reaction that happens when stars are made. Now there’s another job I wouldn’t mind… Chief Star Maker!

Back to our Universe, which continues to expand. The more we understand about how this all started the easier it will be for us to predict what might happen in future. And let’s face it, It would be AMAZING to have answers to all those questions!

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