The Planck Era: 10¯⁴³ sec.; size 10¯³⁰; temperature 10³². Quantum gravity era (t=0), if there is any (t). Observation and knowledge is here precluded as all physical theory breaks down at this smallest dimensional scale. Spacetime (gravity) assumes its quantum face. Thus arises our (much later) need for a quantum theory of gravity. Dimensional compactification occurs spawning the laws of physics of this universe for later anthropocentric metaphysical consciousness to ponder. A purely metaphysical dimension.
GUT Transition Era: 10¯³⁶ sec; the strong force separates from the electroweak force.
The Inflation Era (cold Big Bang): 10¯³⁵ sec; size 10¯²⁶; temperature 10²⁸ Kelvin; Hubble radius about 10¯²⁸m. The scalar quantum inflaton field arises. Highly speculative cold Big Bang supra-luminal accelerated expansion of non-zero vacuum energy, or dark super-energy that drives this bizarre exponential accelerating expansion. Should inflation actually exist, and it’s now a favorite among cosmologists as we explore the CMB, it explains cold to hot “reheating” (10¯³⁴ sec), and answers several of the hot Big Bang Problems listed below, to wit, the Flatness Problem, the Horizon Problem, the Monopole Problem, and the Large Scale Structure Problem. Herein quantum fluctuations become the seeds of cosmic clumpyness that were to become the large scale structure of the universe. This apparently theoretically necessary inflaton field and its particle remain a complete mystery.
Moreover, inflation predicts prior and future universes, i.e., the multiverse. At the Planck scale quantum foam, utterly random quantum fluctuations are seeds that produce an infinity of instantly propagating inflationary universes. Wow! What hath God wrought?!
Reheating (hot Big Bang): 10¯³⁴ sec; As inflation ends, vacuum energy becomes mass energy expanding to eventually fill the universe with structure.
Electroweak Phase Transition: 10¯¹² sec.; size 10¯¹⁵; temperature 10¹⁵ Kelvin. Electroweak symmetry is broken; weak and electromagnetic forces separate. All particles become massive by way of the Higgs mechanism and the Higgs field.
Quark-gluon Phase Transition (quark-gluon plasma): 10¯³⁴ sec to 10¯⁶ sec; size 10¯¹²; temperature 10¹². Quarks and gluons become unified in protons and neutrons. All particles are now present in this “particle desert”.
Quark Confinement: 10¯⁵ sec: Lowered temperature and density permit quarks to bind together into hadrons, ending quark-gluon plasma, thus beginning the Hadron and Lepton Eras.
Primordial Nucleosynthesis: 2-5 min; size 10⁹; temperature 19⁹. Temperature has now cooled enough to permit protons and neutrons to form nuclei of the light elements, deuterium (heavy hydrogen), helium, lithium and tritium.
Recombination/photon decoupling, the “time of last scattering”; cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB): 380 Kyr; size 10¯³; temperature 3×10³. Free electrons combine with nuclei to create atoms. The cosmos becomes transparent allowing photons to travel freely throughout space. Atomic matter begins clumping into dark matter, seeding future large scale galactic structure. Photon radiation photo-luminously outpictures itself as this 380,000 year old CMB radiation, whose minute anisotropies (temperature fluctuations) have revealed, through 25 years of satellite mapping probes (COBE, WMAP, ESA’s Planck), the essential cosmic inventory and age of the universe. ESA Planck Probe (2015 release) has shown, through analysis of the CMB angular power spectrum, this cosmic recipe to be: dark energy 68.3 percent; dark matter 26.8 percent; ordinary baryonic matter 4.9 percent; age of the universe 13.77 billion years.
The Dark Age: 5-200 Myr; size 10¯¹; temperature 30 Kelvin. Tiny initial quantum perturbations in matter density finally form atomic gas which becomes dark matter clumps, which then begin gravitational collapse into the first stars, which form galaxies and large scale galactic structure—boom, just like that.
The first stars then, are constituted of primordial atomic gas, hydrogen and helium. They are massive, therefore their lives are hot and brief (1-4 Myr) terminating in massive supernova explosions. Later supernovae free the heavier elements—carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron—for future use in planets, and sentient beings who evolve dualistic subject/object consciousness to inquire as to how this all arises. In due course, early star groups emerge to spawn infant galaxies. Increased production of these heavy elements stabilizes later stars by reducing their mass and luminosity, thereby increasing longevity.
Reionization Era: 200-800 Myr; Neutral hydrogen and helium are ionized by radiation from early proto-galactic star groups.
Acceleration Era: 7 Byr; hot Big Bang state cosmic expansion slows, then most mysteriously becomes accelerating expansion, discovered in 1998 through observations of type Ia supernovae; and due perhaps, to dark energy, the cosmological constant Λ, the vacuum energy itself? Or due perhaps to a dynamic Quintessence.
Spiral Galaxies Form: 5-8 Byr; true spiral and disk galaxies augment the stellar inventory of earlier elliptical galaxies. At 8-9 Byr atomic and dark matter density equilibrate with expanding dark energy.
The Solar System: 9 Byr; size 0.5; temperature 6 Kelvin. Our sun is a second generation star. From previously existing heavy elements it formed with its planets about 4.6 billion years ago. The total age of the present universe is about 13.77 billion years.
The Present Universe: 13.77 Byr; size 1; temperature 2.74 Kelvin. Over 100 billion galaxies, each containing at least 100 billion stars now inhabits the known observable, visible universe. The entire universe—that beyond our visible and causal horizon—is very much larger. Astonishingly, this visible universe is but a small part of the total universe, most of which lies beyond our visible, causal horizon; and which is, on the account of multiverse theory, but one in an infinite ensemble of universes. Chaotic and eternal inflation support such a multiverse notion which is fast becoming cosmological orthodoxy. Goodbye creation ex nihilo problem.
Mergence of Andromeda (M31) and Milky Way galaxies: +3-4 Byr.
The Sun Dies: +5 Byr; As our sun depletes its finite hydrogen and helium nuclear fuel it becomes a red giant consuming earth’s atmosphere and surface. It then explodes its own atmosphere, with its planetary system; ultimately to become a lifeless white dwarf. However, we must not be downcast at the prospect of this sad ending. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our materialist philosophies. Thus does intelligence, in due course, free itself from mere physical embodiment.
Large Scale Structure Development Ends: +20 Byr; Accelerating expansion of dark energy reduces density, precluding further growth of galaxies.
The Last Stars Die: +1000 Byr (1 trillion years). Our timeline fantasy concludes. Fine. Primordial emptiness again. Perhaps form, even life, even self-conscious life—whether physical, mental, or pure intelligence, abides in other universes in this infinite vast expanse, the unbounded whole (mahabindu) that is reality being itself. Or perhaps not.
Explore Hindu and Buddhist cosmology to discover a subtler reality dimension that abides beyond the “scientific”, merely physical, objective cosmos. Let us venture in the brave new world of the subjective kosmos reality dimensions of this great unbounded whole (mahabindu) that transcends, yet embraces our outer, exoteric understanding.
Following physics’ rude metaphysical awakening to the inherently subjective nature of reality—the pure metaphysical speculations of hitherto “scientific” relativistic quantum field theory, pre-Big Bang multiverse theory, post-Big Bang, post-empirical string/M Theory, dark energy, and the rest—we shall not suffer this loss of idyllic pure reason morbidly. Far from it. We have always known, in spite of our rather obsessive pre-conscious deep cultural background modern-enlightenment realist/materialist “web of belief”, that our protean human consciousness is constituted by two voices, objective and subjective, at once. Our human condition is to strike a plural, holistic body/mind/spirit cognitive balance. Is it not?
Wow! Our ex nihilo Big Bang creation story is here created for all to praise. Glory Be, and long live Fred Hoyle’s (he named it) inflated, inflationary Big Bang. But the “how” and “who” questions remain unanswered (but not unanswerable). Standard Model ΛCDM big bang cosmology cannot explain its creation myth. Let us then more deeply explore scientific explanation in cosmology.
Here we might consider the often adroitly dodged child’s question, e.g. “this is an inappropriate question”; or “this question makes no sense”, etc. That simple and obvious question is of course, “What happened before the Big Bang”; precisely what banged, how, when and where? Enter stage left, an occult, trans-empirical all-embracing multiverse, and variations on this recent urgent cosmological theme. The Big Bang that we have come to know and love has an inherent series of most vexing theoretical and mathematical challenges that have incited most cosmologists, and philosophers of cosmology and physics to move forward into that next more inclusive theory, namely the spooky, “post-empirical”, many-bang multiverse.