Ask a Physicist: What really happened right after the big bang?

Greetings, niners! My latest “Ask a Physicist” column is up: “What really happened right after the big bang?” It’s an exploration of inflation theory, and why we buy it. I should mention that inflation is one of those ideas that is a general consensus amongst physicists, but we’re not wedded to it. People are working on new alternatives all the time. For the moment, though, it seems to be the best explanation of quite a few interesting things about our universe.

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3 Responses to Ask a Physicist: What really happened right after the big bang?

  1. Rich says:

    So was gravity a field prior to the big bang or did gravity begin during the lowering of the inflaton field?

    • dave says:

      Prior to the big bang? We really don’t know, since honestly we don’t have a particularly good theory about what happened before the big bang, or even, quite frankly, if such a phrase makes sense.

      But gravity did begin prior to inflation. Prior to the Planck time (about 10^-44 s after the big bang) gravity and the others were presumably unified. But between the Planck time and the onset of inflation (~ 10^-36 s after the big bang, which seems nothing, but was a factor of 100 million in age) gravity was already separate.

  2. Francien says:

    Dave ,

    you say the following:

    “…..the pairs got split apart by the inflating universe, and couldn’t ever recombine”

    But wouldn’t the reverse be true, namely that because the particles could not recombine, inflation could and can occur?

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