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Model of the origin of the universe, which holds that it emerged from a state of extremely high temperature and density in an explosive expansion 10 billion–15 billion years ago. Its two basic assumptionsthat Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity correctly describes the gravitational interaction of all matter and that an observer's view of the universe does not depend on direction of observation or on locationmake it possible to calculate physical conditions in the universe back to a very early time called the Planck time (after Max Planck). According to the model proposed by George Gamow in the 1940s, the universe expanded rapidly from a highly compressed early state, with a steady decrease in density and temperature. Within seconds, matter predominated over antimatter and certain nuclei formed. It took another million years before atoms could form and electromagnetic radiation could travel through space unimpeded. The abundances of hydrogen, helium, and lithium and the discovery of cosmic background radiation support the model, which also explains the redshifts of the light from distant galaxies as resulting from the expansion of space.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on big bang, visit Britannica.com.