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See Inside March 2005

Misconceptions about the Big Bang

Baffled by the expansion of the universe? You're not alone. Even astronomers frequently get it wrong
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The expansion of the universe may be the most important fact we have ever discovered about our origins. You would not be reading this article if the universe had not expanded. Human beings would not exist. Cold molecular things such as life-forms and terrestrial planets could not have come into existence unless the universe, starting from a hot big bang, had expanded and cooled. The formation of all the structures in the universe, from galaxies and stars to planets and Scientific American articles, has depended on the expansion.

Forty years ago this July, scientists announced the discovery of definitive evidence for the expansion of the universe from a hotter, denser, primordial state. They had found the cool afterglow of the big bang: the cosmic microwave background radiation. Since this discovery, the expansion and cooling of the universe has been the unifying theme of cosmology, much as Darwinian evolution is the unifying theme of biology. Like Darwinian evolution, cosmic expansion provides the context within which simple structures form and develop over time into complex structures. Without evolution and expansion, modern biology and cosmology make little sense.

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