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Will we ever know what happened before the Big Bang?

9 May 2013, 13:20 UTC
Will we ever know what happened before the Big Bang?
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

(This piece originally appeared in the “Will We Ever?” column at BBC Future. I added some commentary at the end and changed the accompanying image, but otherwise left everything the same, including UK spelling.)
If you think theories about the universe are mind-bending, rest assured that many scientists feel the same way. But the question isn’t a philosophical one: it has potentially real, testable aspects. [Credit: ESA/Planck Collaboration/D. Ducros]In many ways, it’s strange to us humans that the Universe should be the age it is. The Universe – by definition, everything that physically exists – should either be infinite in age, or somehow tied to the lifespan of the human species, as it does in many mythologies. However, thanks to studies on the rate the Universe is expanding, and applying this knowledge in reverse, we know its age. Roughly 13.8 billion years ago, all we can observe on Earth, in our solar system, other galaxies and everything in between expanded out rapidly from an initial point much smaller than an atom, which we call the Big Bang.
The Big Bang model is our best explanation for why the cosmos appears as it does. Nevertheless, it’s not able to answer some ...

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