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READ: Origin Story — Modern Scientific

Modern Scientific Origin Story: The Big Bang

Planetary nebula NGC 6210 in Hercules Constellation © ESA/Hubble and NASA
By Cynthia Stokes Brown
From vast nothingness to a Universe of stars and galaxies and our own Earth.
This version of modern science’s origin story is condensed and interpreted from a great body of historical and scientific information.
In the beginning, as far as we know, there was nothing. Suddenly, from a single point, all the energy in the Universe burst forth. Since that moment 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe has been expanding — and cooling down as it gets bigger. 
Gradually energy cooled enough to become matter. One electron could stay in orbit around one proton to become an atom of hydrogen. Great clouds of hydrogen swirled around space until gravity pulled some atoms so close together that they began to burn as stars. Stars swirled together in giant clusters called galaxies; now there are galaxies numbering in the billions.
After each star burned up all its matter, it died in a huge explosion. The explosion generated so much heat that some atoms fused and got more and more complex, forming many different elements, including gold and silver.
One giant star, our mother star, exploded and scattered clouds of gas containing all the elements needed to form living beings. About 5 billion years ago gravity pulled these atoms into a new star: our Sun. The leftover pieces of matter stuck to each other and formed eight planets, which revolve around the Sun.
The third planet out, Earth, became our home. It was the perfect size — not too big, not too small — and the perfect distance from the Sun, not too far or too close. A thin crust formed over Earth’s hot interior, and the temperature was just right for water to form on parts of the surface. Gradually the chemicals in the water formed inside of membranes and got more complex until one-celled living organisms appeared, able to maintain themselves and reproduce.
For 3 billion years these one-celled creatures reproduced almost exactly, but not quite. They gradually changed in response to their environment.
But they also changed their environment. They learned to burn energy from the Sun, and they released oxygen into the atmosphere. The oxygen formed an ozone layer around Earth that protected life from the Sun’s rays.
Eventually cells stuck together to form creatures with many cells. Plants and animals came out of the sea onto land and became ever more complex and aware, until about 100,000 years ago human beings evolved from a shared ancestor with species of apes.
Humans could talk in symbols and sing, dance, draw, and cooperate more than the other animals could. Humans learned to write and to accumulate their learning so that it kept expanding. Humans increased in skills and in numbers until there were too many people and too few big animals in some places.
Then humans learned to grow their own food and herd their own animals. Some animals learned to cooperate with humans. This gave humans new sources of food and work energy, and they could live in larger and larger groups. These groups expanded into cities and empires, using more and more of the resources of Earth. Humans collaborated and learned collectively in more complex ways; they traveled, traded, and exchanged inventions, creating vast civilizations of astonishing beauty and complexity.
Humans were always looking for more energy for their use. About 200 years ago we learned to use the energy from coal — trees that grew more than 300,000 years ago, then were buried underground. Humans learned to burn oil — animal remains buried long ago under the sea. Using these fossil fuels, humans began to change their climate quickly, as the gases released from burning these fuels ascended into the atmosphere.
Now humans are in a predicament – our population is increasing rapidly, fossil fuels are running out, we are pushing many plants and other animals into extinction, and we are changing the climate. What are we humans going to do next?*

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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Lena Lindström
    It says in the article: "Some animals learned to cooperate with humans. This gave humans new sources of food".

    Is "cooperate" really the right word for this human vs cattle relationship? Humans OWN cattle and we use these animals as we please, as objects. This can hardly be called a cooperation.

    Thanks for a great article!
    (35 votes)
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    • leaf grey style avatar for user Michœl
      Dogs are companions, can help on a farm, help the blind with mobility. Horses and mules and camels are used for transportation and work. Oxen were used to help plow fields. Even elephants are used for transportation and help out with heavy lifting in parts of the world! Many animals work with humans every day!
      (17 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user LeFF
    I think there's a mistake in the 'Age of Earth' section of the answer key. The Universe was created 13.8 billion years ago, not the Earth (which was formed about 5 bln years ago), right?
    (18 votes)
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  • sneak peak blue style avatar for user Kaze Haibara 🔛
    "What are we humans going to do next?" Play Save The Planet on Impossible mode, then you'll know xP

    In all seriousness though, what are humans going to do? Personally, I think the best thing to do right now is narrow down the problems, and solve them as much as is possible. But even that will be difficult purely due to the fact that some people will not be willing to change, despite how crucial it will be to the Earth's survival.

    Which is another thing I don't get about the human race. Why is it that they are so willing to do whatever in the name of survival, yet when it comes to the literal planet they inhabit, they've been so careless? It doesn't make sense to me. Why not cherish something that you have, and take good care of it? Because right now, Earth is all humans have. And she's dying. Because of humans.

    She didn't ask to hold all these people. She didn't ask to have the right conditions for them to thrive. She just did. And humans have taken advantage of her. Not even just taken advantage. Just taken. Taking taking taking, never ever giving. It's shameful, honestly. Just shameful.

    The good news is that there are people, good people, who want to help. Who want to change the way things are. For the better. I am one of those people. And there are so many ways to heal the Earth. And it's possible. It's entirely possible. We can save the Earth. If only more people would wake up and see that...
    (7 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Alex B.
    Hey, I don't know if I did something wrong or didn't read something properly (I didn't read the whole origin story section in one go) but I can't seem to find the Chinese origin story, yet it's in the answer key. Can someone please point me in the right direction?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Eric Waldstein
      Hi Alex - good catch here and apologies for the confusion. We ended up removing the Chinese origin story. I have notified our content team and they will take the best course of action to get this addressed for future reference. Thanks again for the catch and let us know if you come across anything else!
      (5 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Erin (Hexaflexagon!)
    Is this basically what the first threshold is?
    (4 votes)
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  • stelly yellow style avatar for user Mia
    I just caught this in the beginning of this article. We don't know that the universe came from nothing, because the laws of physics break down at the moment of and any time before the Big Bang. There are actually lots of versions of the Big Bang theory, including the cyclic model, string theory, the singularity model, and a few more. Saying that as far as we know, the universe came from nothing isn't a fatal flaw, but it's a mistake, because it's not based on science (because we just don't know). I think it's more an influence of religion/philosophy/older ideas on the Big Bang theory than anything.
    (5 votes)
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  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Jurgen Gjonçari
    In the eighth paragraph it states: "Eventually cells stuck together to form creatures with many cells. Plants and animals came out of the sea...". Which came first: plants, or animals; or simultaneously? I think that the difference is crucial as they make opposite processes at almost everything and most importantly about the oxygen which plants give it and animals receive it.
    (3 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user moonrae6
    What ARE we humans going to do next?
    (3 votes)
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    • primosaur sapling style avatar for user Veronika
      We will slowly understand that we have to start with ourselves in a rather meditative and slow process, a process that requires much time, than to try to act quickly to undo something or to blame the others for it. This universe as it is right now is the best one, we should not regret anything or think in terms of wrongness. We should look forward into a peaceful world full of variety and love, full of hope and challenge. We can look what we have now, and try to use it for the future. Full of science and people who are empathic towards each other. I guess we will slowly understand this, more and more, to move into a world full of compassion and love. And the more we find these in our hearts, the more it will reflect to others and so on, like a chain reaction :)
      (4 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Jurgen Gjonçari
    In the second paragraph, it says: "Great clouds of hydrogen swirled around space until gravity pulled some atoms so close together that they began to burn as stars.". Where did the gravity come from?
    (3 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Caoimhe M
      Well that is the million-dollar question isn't it. Gravity is a force that masses exert on each other, and we know how it acts, but beyond that, I don't think there is an explanation as to why it acts or where it comes from, much the same as we don't know what caused the Big Bang. In this sense, we might as well take our lead from any one of the other origin stories and say the big bang was caused by a giant turtle and the turtle's treacherous son created gravity, for all the understanding it would give us... This is why science doesn't necessarily preclude faith, or vice versa: there is a perfectly rational argument for the existence of some other Thing (perhaps represented by God, a giant turtle, etc.) that caused the big bang and thereby the creation of the universe, but so much of the observable universe is still beyond our understanding, let alone worrying about whether there's anything fathomable beyond it
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jack FrancisV
    monkeys and humans share a common ancestor from which both evolved around 25 million years ago. This evolutionary relationship is supported both by the fossil record and DNA analysis. A 2007 study showed that humans and rhesus monkeys share about 93% of their DNA. IS THIS TRUE?
    (3 votes)
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