Except for a very few people who know everything, nobody knows in detail how the universe started or what happened between then and now. But we’ve been given many interesting suggestions. Some, biblical in nature, tell take-it-leave-it stories. Others offer some combination of evidence and logical reasoning.
John Baez‘s majestic “The Earth—for Physicists” appeared in the magazine Physics World (thanks to Vaughn Tan for bringing it to our attention) in 2009. Here’s a snippet:
The Sun was probably formed from the gravitational collapse of a cloud of gas and dust. Early models of star formation assumed spherical symmetry, but if you know the joke whose punchline is “consider a spherical cow”, you should suspect that this is a dangerous oversimplification. Indeed, angular momentum plays a major role. As such a cloud collapses gravitationally, it should form a spinning “accretion disk”.
Eric Schulman [pictured here] some years ago wrote a shorter, incisive masterpiece called “The History of the Universe in 200 Words or Less“, which we published in the Annals of Improbable Research, and which volunteers subsequently translated into half a zillion languages, and which Eric himself expanded to book length in answer to a challenge (and a contract) from a book publisher.
You can see and hear Eric perform the original version, on Saturday night, February 19, at the Improbable Research show at the AAAS’s Annual Meeting, which this year is in Washington, DC. This show (unlike most of the meeting) is open to the public, free. Spread the word, and come, please!