The matter and radiation that fill our universe -- the basic building blocks for everything around us -- were forged in the Big Bang. Yet without what happened before the Big Bang, those building blocks would not have come together to form the comfortable universe we inhabit.
To make the universe we live in, the Big Bang needed a Big Push -- an instant before the Big Bang in which the universe expanded at a staggering rate -- an era known as cosmic inflation.
ACKERMAN: Cosmic inflation is a hypothetical period in the very, very early universe when the universe expanded very quickly, exponentially.
University of Texas physicist Lotty Ackerman.
ACKERMAN: Most models think that it happened 10-to-the-minus-34 seconds after the universe was born. This was way before there were galaxies, planets or anything that we know today.
Inflation theory says the universe began as a flicker of energy from nothingness. The energy field of this flicker caused it to expand incredibly fast. For every given unit of time, the universe doubled in size. In less than a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, it grew from the size of an atom to the size of the solar system.
At the end of that time, the energy field was converted to normal matter and radiation -- the event that's regarded today as the Big Bang.
As that happened, inflation came to end. But its effects on the universe were just beginning. More about that tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.