The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe

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The Great Courses


We live in a golden age of cosmology, which is the science that deals with the origin and development of the universe. It was only a century ago that Edwin Hubble showed that there are galaxies outside of our own Milky Way—trillions of them, as we now know. A few years later, he discovered that most of these galaxies are moving away from each other in an expanding universe. Then roughly 60 years ago, that expansion was proved to have begun in a moment of incredibly high density and temperature that scientists have labeled as the Big Bang. The breakthroughs have continued since then with amazing insights, such as these:

  • Dark Matter. This abundant but invisible substance was responsible for the collection of gas into protogalaxies tens of millions of years after the Big Bang. Dark matter far outweighs ordinary matter in the universe, and its existence was only confirmed in the 1970s.
  • Inflation. For a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe may have undergone a period of runaway growth, inflating to unimaginable size. Developed in the 1980s and supported by many observations, inflation theory explains baffling features of our universe.
  • Dark Energy. In the 1990s, cosmologists discovered that galaxies are moving away from each other ever-faster over time, suggesting that something is exerting a repulsive force pushing all the galaxies outward. This mysterious expansive influence has been termed “dark energy.”

As remarkable as it may seem, researchers have assembled a detailed description of events that occurred 13.8 billion years ago, when the universe as we know it got its start. The Big Bang and Beyond: Exploring the Early Universe tells this breathtaking story in 12 half-hour lectures for nonscientists, presented by award-winning educator Gary Felder, Professor of Physics at Smith College.