Sunday, September 28, 2014

History of the universe

Here are some timelines to illustrate the scale of the history - past and future - of our universe.


Our universe is in its infancy. To illustrate just how long the lifespan of the universe is, I showed the four major stages that it will go through. Fittingly, each of these eras is so ridiculously longer than the period before it, by orders of magnitude upon orders of magnitude, that there is no practical way to make the earlier ones visible. (A logarithmic scale works to some extent, but even there you have to cheat.)

We are currently in what scientists call the "Stelliferous" (or star-making) Era. This is the time period where the universe will be familiar to us and life as we know it will be possible. The universe is approximately 13.798 billion years old, and if that entire time were reduced to one millimeter on the timeline, the entire Stelliferous Era would be 7.25 meters long.

The next phase will be the Degenerate Era. With no new stars being formed, the last stellar remnants will slowly decay, and then matter itself will decay. Life may exist in some form throughout part of this era, but it will become increasingly difficult, and the universe will be a dark and lonely place. If we use our same timeline (the Big Bang to present day equals one millimeter), the Degenerate Era would occupy a timeline some 72.5 billion light years across.

For reference, the diameter of the observable universe is currently about 93 billion years, so we would need most of it to make our timeline - again, only one millimeter of which has happened yet.

I'm not going to bother doing the math on the remaining two phases of the universe (the Black Hole Era in which nothing but black holes remain, and the Dark Era in which nothing but decaying particles remain), because our human brains just can't handle it. (Believe it or not, the timescale gets even more ridiculous.)

Better to concentrate on that first breath that our universe has already taken, as I have done below. While time is normally divided into geological subdivisions, I have attempted here to divide it into historical ones. where intervals of the same level (Super-Eon, Eon, Era, Period, Epoch, Division, Stage or Age) are all of roughly the same duration. Each chart shows an increasingly narrow period of time. For more details, see the complete Alien Robot Zombie Secret History of the Universe.






(Note: I am aware that some of the events referred to on the timelines above are considered "fiction." Again, see the complete Alien Robot Zombie Secret History of the Universe to see where I stand on that. Also, I trust if you're reading this blog, you're smart enough to know which is which. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn.)

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