In cosmology, a hypothesized period of exponential expansion of the universe, shortly after the big bang, which may account for some of the universe's observed properties, such as the distribution of energy and matter. Grand unified theories of the forces of nature suggest that inflation could have occurred during the first 1032 second after the universe began, when the strong force was decoupling from the weak and electromagnetic forces. During this time, the universe would have expanded by more than 100 orders of magnitude. Interpreted in the context of general relativity, inflation occurred while the universe existed in a state of nonzero energy density (false vacuum).

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