Universe Cycle - Universe (6)
Pre Lab 

  • Exploring how the Universe may have evolved.
  • Developing a time frame of Universe formation.
  • evolution
  • Universe

Students make a "cartoon" about the beginning of the Universe

A spiral galaxy


The Universe is always taught with an aura of mystery. Teachers are sometimes unsure about how to explain the formation of the Universe. Part of the reason for this problem is that there is no scientific answer for this question. The data on the formation of the Universe and its evolution are inconclusive, indirect, and hard to decipher. We suggest that you tell students scientists do not yet understand all that is going on in the Universe. Part of this is because the physical rules of the Universe are somewhat different than our everyday experience here on Earth. For example, a light beam appears to travel in a straight line when we observe it on Earth. However, using the Universe perspective , light commonly travels in curved paths, when it is warped by the gravity of stars and galaxies.

Current cosmological theory (cosmology is the branch of astronomy that studies the evolution and origin of the Universe and the objects within it) suggests that the Universe began with the Big Bang, an explosion and expansion which created matter and energy as we know them. We cannot observe what came before the Big Bang, although sophisticated computer and mathematical modeling is beginning to give some insight into this question.

Here is a rough timetable of events after the Big Bang. Note that the timing and details of these events change as more research is done.


  1. The Big Bang Occurred
    All interactions, gravity, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and electromagnetism are unified. The radius of the Universe is less than 10-50 centimeters - A very small area.
  2. 10-43 seconds later
    Gravity separated from the other forces. Inflation, the tremendous expansion of the early Universe. The observable Universe expands to approximately the size of a grapefruit.
  3. 10-35 seconds after the Big Bang
    The strong nuclear force separates from electromagnetism and weak nuclear force. Inflation ends. The Universe consists of a hot electron-quark soup. (a quark is a the main type of subatomic particle which makes up protons).
  4. 1 second after the Big Bang
    Electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force separate. Quarks combine to form protons, and protons and electrons combine to form neutrons. Helium and other light elements form through from these through nucleosynthesis .
  5. 1 million years after the Big Bang
    The universe becomes transparent as it continues to expand. Matter releases radiation. Several spacecraft have detected these emissions, which are called the cosmic microwave background radiation.
  6. 1 billion years after the Big Bang
    Protogalaxies begin to form.
  7. 3 billion years after the Big Bang
    Quasars and some radio galaxies (galaxies that emit extremely high amounts of electromagnetic radiation) begin to form.
  8. 8 billion years after the Big Bang
    Most galaxies, including the Milky Way have formed. The Sun and Solar System form.
  9. 13 billion years after the Big Bang
    The present.

Although no one was there to witness these events, current evidence suggests that this is the best account of the origin of the Universe. This scenario will certainly change with new discoveries. Students should be told this directly. In other words, don't take the sequence of Universe evolution as fact, it will change!

  1. You may want to use  Searching the Universe (slideshow) to review the idea of the Universe with students.  The last slide illustrated the idea of the "Big Bang."
  2. View a video or DVD on the creation of the Universe. There are several products on the market including Creation of the Universe (1985) and Stephen Hawkin’s Universe (1997). You can purchase these on Internet video sites or check your library to see what they may have. Illustrating the creation of the Universe is difficult, and a well done video helps. You may also ask your students if any of them has a video they would like to share.
  3. You may want the students to make a cartoon of the early Universe. Present the information in the Time Table to the students. Go slowly through the different parameters and try to dramatize each of the events. If students are unfamiliar with the terms review the material from either the 4th or 5th grade Universe lessons.

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