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29 December 2010

The moment of creation

By Duncan Robinson

Upon hearing it articulated for the first time, Albert Einstein called the Big Bang theory “the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened”.

The man who first came up with the theory was Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Catholic priest, who published his theory of an expanding universe in 1927. It remained theory until Edwin Hubbell provided an observational foundation in 1929. Finally, in 1931, Lemaître proposed the idea of “l’atome primitif” – a primeval atom as a single starting point from which the entire universe exploded: in other words, the Big Bang.

The phrase “big bang” came in 1949 from one of the theory’s critics, the British astronomer Fred Hoyle, who proposed a static, non-expanding universe.

It was not until the 1960s that further observational evidence emerged in favour of the Big Bang theory. Two radio astronomers discovered cosmic microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the Big Bang (and 1 per cent of the static on your television screen).

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Today, this theory provides the fundamental motivation for projects such as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Scientists want to re-create the infinitesimally tiny moments following the Big Bang to learn exactly how the universe was formed.