Big Bang Theory, the video (but not that one)

By Phil Plait | August 28, 2009 8:00 am

This is pretty cool: it’s a video description of the Big Bang done by astronomer Janna Levin, directors Keith Olwell and Elizabeth Kiehner, with the animation directed by Justin Meredith. It was done on essentially zero budget, yet looks very cool and slick.

I got an email about it from Keith, and he said he’s creating a series of these. I can’t wait to see more!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science

Comments (55)

  1. And here I thought I would get a video about Jim Parsons’ Emmy nomination. :) I can’t see this at work, but will have a look when I get home. I know that nearly every animation I see shows an explosion IN some sort of space, and I hate that since it was really an explosion OF space. The frailies of the human mind to really visualize it I guess.

  2. Taf

    Maybe I have my idiosyncrasies but I would question the extensive use of the verb “create”.

  3. T.E.L.

    It’s a nice quickie, but there’s still the same old problem: it shows the bang radiating from a unique point. The bang cannot be accurately illustrated from outside, at a distance. The Universe only has an inside. The only things we’ll ever observe about it are what’s inside, so the expansion should be from an internal POV.

  4. Nemo

    Apparently the Universe is more purple than I thought.

  5. T.E.L.

    It’s purple because, being a very low budget video, that’s the only color they could afford.

  6. It wasn’t as funny as the one on Monday night.

  7. Duh, purple is the highest energy visible light! Of course they’d use purple!

  8. When they show the universe expanding it appears that the universe is occupied by a single galaxy. They need to show lots of galaxies like the Hubble deep field or something.

  9. Gurnipikus

    I liked the latch on the door behind her. Is that a sliding fire safe door? What a symbolic gesture – protection against out-of-control ‘explosions’ with the light all shining forth from beyond.

  10. Andre

    First, there was nothing. Then, bang : space, time, matter, energy.

    We don’t know how and we never will.

    Isn’t this the purest definition of creationism? … and no skeptics ?

  11. Oded

    I love Janna Levin! She is so cool!

    The video is amazing, great graphics for low budget

  12. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    Galaxies emerging immediately from the big bang is, from what I understand, is wrong. It took thousands of years before light could even escape the fog caused by the density of particles. How does one illustrate that? A whole lot of light bouncing around like a kid in a mosh pit.

    Is it even possible to show what is understood about the first thousand years of the universe’s expansion?

    Also, isn’t more proper to illustrate just what scientists can know, that is after the first tiny slivers of a second?

    But, yeah, continuing the “explosion in space” as the Big Bang still leads to the Great Misunderstanding™ and ought to be rectified by future animators. Especially those with appreciable budgets.

  13. OK, wait – did she say that galaxies began to form five billion years after the Big Bang? That doesn’t sound right. The Ultra Deep Field galaxies are over 13 billion years old, which puts them only half a billion years after the Big Bang.

  14. it’s also more fodder for the creationists who accuse scientists of believing that the universe came from nothing. We don’t know what caused the Bing Bang or what existed before it, and saying it came from nothing lowers us to their level. She gives a better explanation later, but the intro to the video is misleading.

  15. T.E.L.

    The heavy-security door might be because she lives in NY city. :)

  16. wright

    At least some of the misconceptions are addressed; that’s better than the typical superficial treatment.

    That not only energy and matter but Space and Time were also begun by the Big Bang is a difficult concept to wrap one’s mind around. Looking forward to seeing more in this series.

  17. I think the heavy-duty door is to provide protection against the big crunch. Looks like it might do the job as long as it’s locked when it happens.

  18. 12. mathyoo Says:
    August 28th, 2009 at 10:02 am

    it’s also more fodder for the creationists who accuse scientists of believing that the universe came from nothing.

    It would be fodder for the science deniers no matter what she said. If the universe emerged from nothing, it’s because only God can make something come from nothing. If the universe is part of a repeating cycle, it’s because God didn’t like the last one. If the universe is just one infinity in a multiverse of infinities, it’s because God likes to multitask. And “nothing” seems to be a pretty adequate description of a spaceless, timeless, non-existence, doesn’t it?

  19. Jenkins Suspolik

    So let me get this straight…millions and billions of dollars go into research and the best answer Scientists can come up with is “Stuff just blew up and Tah-dah! Here we are! Wonderfully and amazingly made! Planet and all! Toss in a few bazillion years to allow us to rise up from the goop and we are all here by accident!”

    I’d like to know how you get something from nothing to blow up in the first place? Who funds this kind of thinking and then expects people to follow it by claiming “Oh you wouldn’t understand the technical Quantum babble but trust us…it happened that way! Oh and while we know this we still can’t figure out how the human brain works in every sense…tee hee our bad!” Amazing how we can create all these animations to give credibility to foolishness and yet we can’t tell all the secrets of the human sponge called the brain. News flash: Stop spending all this money on 3d graphics and concentrate on unbiased research into our origins. These 3d graphics hold nothing factual too them that Hollywood hasn’t already done a bazillion times more believable (I too believed a man could fly! Saw it on the big screen! Superman lives!)

    The more I see things like this the more I’m convinced Science has it ALL wrong. Laughable to say the least.

  20. Maybe it would be better if we came up with a better name than the “Big Bang”. Calvin and Hobbes suggested the “Horrendous Space Kablooie” but scientists are too stodgy, I guess.

  21. Eddie Janssen
  22. Egaeus


    Big bang
    5 billion years later, galaxies begin to form
    10 million years later, earth forms
    14 billion years later, people evolve

    Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

    I realize that the 10 million is probably a misspeak, but can we not look at the Hubble deep field and see galaxies around 13 billion years old?

  23. @14:

    I thought the problem with calling the Big Bang ‘the creation of both time and space’ has to do with the singularity.

    Because the universe was a singularity at t=0, there is no realistic way (currently) to actually extract any information about t<=0 other than inference. The singularity would have either destroyed that information, or (as more recently believed) mangled it beyond our ability to reassemble the information. Much like we expect with a black hole. Which leaves us only being able to peer back to one Planck unit of time after t=0, at best, if we knew how to peer back that far in the first place.

    So to me and my current understanding, it is this singularity that really is the stumper. Even if time and space existed prior to t=0, we couldn't actually do any examination of it. And because of that, we might as well act like it didn't exist, because for all intents and purposes, it doesn't when it comes to our models.

    Of course, now some scientists have ideas on how to detect if there was anything prior to t=0, but they require certain theories in order to work, those theories of course are still waiting for evidence to show that they hold water beyond the current models…

  24. Mike

    Agree with #12. The intro makes it sound like the big bang is an ex nihilo event. I welcome a real astronomer/cosmologist correcting me if I’m wrong on this, but the big bang was an expansion from a singularity, not an expansion out of nothing.

  25. I know this is going to sound stupid but I’m going to ask anyway. I’ve never understood the definition of Time when used in this context, and also in “space/time continumm”. What do they mean and how is it measured?

  26. T.E.L.


    A continuum is just something which is continuous, unbroken. The top of a dining table, as an example, is approximately continuous at the scale of the people who use it. It’s an unbroken expanse. Space is also continuous, at least approximately so at large scales. Space is a continuum. Time is also continuous.

    The term “space-time” is from special relativity, which sees space and time as an integrated whole. Consider the dimensions of space that we deal with: up-down, forward-backward, left-right. These represent axes, like the edges of a square box. The box has three dimensions, x, y & z, and any travel within the box will have x, y & z components of various extents.

    But the motion inside space takes time. For each moment of time a moving object is at a particular place in the x, y, z space. There’s a correspondence between position in space and position in time; so time is treated as another axis (t) in a four-dimensional system: x, y, z, t. This is space-time.

  27. Ray Gedaly

    I’ve noticed descriptions of the Big Rip are very similar to those for Inflation. Perhaps what we consider to be the local universe began with a Big Rip of a prior universe. Because of the enormity of the expansion, all of our observable universe would have essentially been expanded from a single point in the prior universe. Though microscopically small, this point would not have been a singularity. One big difference is that, unlike the conceived pre-Big Bang singularity, this point would not have had infinite mass or density. So some other exotic physics (Higgs perhaps?) would have to explain how mas increased.

  28. T.E.L. Thank you. I had to read the explanation a couple of times and then write it in my own words to make sure I understood it. I have an old brain, but it still wants to learn:)

  29. T.E.L.

    Molly Said:

    “I had to read the explanation a couple of times and then write it in my own words to make sure I understood it.”

    I think that’s probably the best way to do it.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the expansion should be from an internal POV

    Speaking of POVs, the implied expansion from nothing instead of a more mundane singularity, or even the more basic end of inflation, is a POV that cuts off a lot of cosmologies from consideration AFAIU.

    Also, it is dubious in general and especially considering the above that the ‘creation’ or, better, emergence of spacetime is equaled with the beginning of [space and] time.

    The “can’t communicate with other universes” is another untested POV AFAIU. I’ve seen plenty of speculation on possible observations, if not other “communication”, when for instance bubble universes “bounce” off each other. (And I’m just a layman who can’t possibly keep up with all of this.)

    To continue the WTF’s, isn’t the “bounce” scenarios dead in the water? I seem to remember descriptions on how cyclic scenarios are incompatible with this and that, like the 2nd law of TD or the observed equation of state of standard cosmology, and IIRC WMAP pretty much rejected ekpyrotic models.

    Perhaps all these troubles of prediction simply stems from a basic inconsistency?:

    “The New Ekpyrotic Ghost
    Authors: Renata Kallosh, Jin U Kang, Andrei Linde, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
    (Submitted on 13 Dec 2007 (v1), revised 28 Dec 2007 (this version, v2), latest version 26 Mar 2008 (v3))

    Abstract: The new ekpyrotic scenario attempts to solve the singularity problem by involving violation of the null energy condition in a model which combines the ekpyrotic/cyclic scenario with the ghost condensate theory and the curvaton mechanism of production of adiabatic perturbations of metric. The Lagrangian of this theory, as well as of the ghost condensate model, contains a term with higher derivatives, which was added to the theory to stabilize its vacuum state. We found that this term may affect the dynamics of the cosmological evolution. Moreover, after a proper quantization, this term results in the existence of a new ghost field with negative energy, which leads to a catastrophic vacuum instability.”

    Anyhow, fascinating as these unlikely possibilities may be for scientists, wouldn’t it be better to describe for laymen what is known and, possibly, the more likely scenarios?

    @ Ray:

    When I browsed I noticed that Wikipedia contains a similar description, the Baum–Frampton cyclic model. For problems with that, apparently it’s the above on equation of state.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
  32. ad

    A pity it perpetuates the “and then something magical happened” meme.

  33. mt

    Is there anyway to encourage someone to post these types of video shorts to “teachertube”? My school blocks youtube, and I hate using proxies to get around it.

  34. Notatheist

    One question, is she single? JK I’m married but oh boy how a smart woman just does it for me lol.

  35. Steven

    It’s pretty cool. The only think that I didn’t like is the fact that at the end she says: “… hot space from which the universe expanded and evolved.” Having seen endless videos of people trying to explain how Evolution has nothing to do with cosmology and the big bang theory perhaps using another word would have been a good idea. Developed maybe?
    I know that evolve isn’t the same thing as the theory of evolution but people who use arguments about dogs evolving from rocks don’t either DON’T know that or the ignore it.

    I find it hard to get my head around the idea of space and time expanding… But it’s still cool to try 😀

  36. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Maybe I should have named Sam: Rocky.

  37. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    I kind of like multi-verses eternally evolving. My combination of atoms would have to happen. Starting or stopping everything reduces my odds of existing. One in a billion is good odds if you have forever to get it done.

  38. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Even Eli could win a Super Bowl.

  39. Jenkins Suspolik #20

    So let me get this straight…millions and billions of dollars go into research and the best answer Scientists can come up with is “Stuff just blew up and Tah-dah! Here we are! Wonderfully and amazingly made! Planet and all! Toss in a few bazillion years to allow us to rise up from the goop and we are all here by accident!”

    Well… no… that’s a major mis-characterization you just put up there. This was a 2 minute video used as an introduction to a theory and a field that people have spent their entire lives to understand, but you think the 2 minute video here explains everything that is thought regarding the big-bang? You can do better than that. Read through some of the other discussion going on here, and then get some books and actually do some real research into big-bang theory and I’m sure you won’t be able to repeat the silly generalization you just made. (By the way, I agree with many of you here that are complaining about the video for various reasons… but I’m willing to let this video go until I can see the others and then re-evaluate based on how it integrates with the entire series.)

    I’d like to know how you get something from nothing to blow up in the first place?

    Well, I know the video is a bit misleading in with how it tries to briefly gloss over it, but the most current thinking doesn’t really say what you’re saying… the big bang, it is thought, IIRC, not to have originated ex nihilo per se, as others here have mentioned, but from a singularity. To understand the difference, you should probably do some research on singularities. Does that mean we have all the answers regarding the origin of the universe? Clearly, no…

    But let me ask you… you seem very very skeptical about big bang theory and seem pre-disposed to dismiss it with misinformed generalizations. You didn’t state as much, so I may be assuming, but is it your belief that god simply snapped it into existence out of nothing? If that is not the case, then I apologize for mis-characterizing you. If that is the case then I would ask you why you would not approach that answer with the same level of incredulity, if not more? Skepticism is admirable, and frankly many of the advances we have made with big-bang theory, as well as other scientific theories, stem from that very mindset of always questioning the evidence. If you are skeptical, that isn’t a bad thing… however if you are skeptical just for the sake of being dismissive, and don’t go on and learn as much as you can to understand WHY you are skeptical, well that’s just disingenuous. So go… learn. Keep asking questions.

    The more I see things like this the more I’m convinced Science has it ALL wrong.

    Do you mean science has it all wrong about the big bang? Or just all wrong in general? If the former, well, sure… it might be all wrong. Science isn’t set up to offer ultimate proofs… it merely makes conclusions based on the preponderance of evidence, that are testable, repeatable, and falsifiable. Many theories have been revised and improved upon over the years as we gather more data and apply it to current theories. The big-bang theory isn’t a perfect, final proof solution for origins… but at this time, it is the very best theory we have that adequately fits with all the evidence we have gathered so far.

    If you are saying that all science in general has it wrong because it does not provide a firm, 100% positive proof of the most complex question in all of existence, well that that’s pretty irresponsable and fairly myopic. If you believe that then you’d better stop going to the doctor, quit driving a car, and get off that computer you’re using. And it also shows that you need a little better understanding of how science works.

  40. Bill

    I started wondering this recently, and I don’t know if anyone has written anything on it. Apparently from observation we can see that the universe is expanding. “Expanding” implies outward movement from a centralized location. In other words, two bodies in this universe should be farther away from each other tomorrow morning. By how much, I don’t know. So I’ve been wondering, where is the point from which all things are moving outward? In other words, where’s the center of this ball?! Is this a dumb question?

  41. 21. Romeo Vitelli Says: “Maybe it would be better if we came up with a better name than the “Big Bang”. Calvin and Hobbes suggested the “Horrendous Space Kablooie” but scientists are too stodgy, I guess.”

    Actually, the term was originally created, so to speak, as a put down of the theory by astronomer Fred Hoyle who didn’t believe in it. The term was too perfectly descriptive, though, and it stuck.

  42. 45. Jack Hagerty Says:
    August 30th, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Actually, the term was originally created, so to speak, as a put down of the theory by astronomer Fred Hoyle who didn’t believe in it. The term was too perfectly descriptive, though, and it stuck.

    But how accurate is it as a description?

    I mean, it couldn’t have been all that big, considering it was the point at which the universe was at its smallest. Sure, it got big later, but at the time of the bang it was a rather small one.

    And would it actually have made a “bang” noise? Since a bang is a pressure wave traveling through matter, how can there be a noise before matter exists? Perhaps after the first few seconds when proto-protons began to form, this early matter was concentrated enough to sustain pressure waves, but there would’ve been nothing to hear it…

  43. T.E.L.

    Bill Said:

    “In other words, where’s the center of this ball?! Is this a dumb question?”

    It’s not a dumb question, but it is based on what’s called a “naive” notion of what it means to expand (and please take no offense at the word “naive”; that’s a word that mathematicians and scientists use all the time to refer to an understanding at an early, comparatively unsophisticated stage).

    Yes, of course, sticks of dynamite explode and the pieces all fly away from a central starting place. Rubber balloons inflate away from a center in 3-D space. What kind of universe is this? It’s almost certainly one governed by the principles of general relativity; and given that, our universe isn’t a cosmic version of a July 4th firecracker, with the little sparkles all radiating away from exactly one point. A GR universe would be a “hypersurface”, with every point in 3-D space being one of an infinity of centers of the expansion: everything expands away from everything else, with the momentary rate between any two regions proportional to their momentary distance (If A & B are expanding apart at some rate, and A & C are twice as far apart as A & B, then A & C are receding twice as fast as A & B).

    The space has symmetry, which means that you can go to any place and the visible universe will appear approximately the same on the large scale. The larger the scale, the more the same it’ll be. If you could instantly transplant yourself to some place several billions of light-years away, the Universe wouldn’t of course appear the same in the minutest of details; but the overall distribution of various kinds of detectable objects would be essentially the same as here, or anywhere.

  44. T.E.L.


    The thing to keep in mind is that the big bang wasn’t something that happened a long time ago: it’s something which is happening all the time. We are living in the big bang. It’s an ongoing, progressive sequence of states, with the earliest state, the so-called beginning of the Universe, being just one.

  45. That’s not purple – it’s octarine! Duh.

  46. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Might the reason everything seems to be moving away from everything else instead of from a point in space be that the universe is already infinitely large and the singularity starting location is infinitely far away. Looking for the beginning or end of eternity from the middle is an endeavor of conjecture with unlimited possibilities.

  47. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Apparently nothing is as large as you can get. If something occurred in it. Would there not be a tremendous pull from the emptiness upon that something in an attempt to be filled by it? I am thinking of a balloon in a vacuum chamber as an example. Could that be dark energy or the reason for the initial rapid expansion of the universe? I am thinking a pull versus a push.

  48. Charles J. Slavis, Jr.

    Isn’t space the ultimate black hole into which everything is falling? The nothing beyond the universe? And I am not referring to the visible universe. Things probably have expanded beyond our ability to see out. I am referring to what is beyond the outer limit of everything in existence. I think that when you go beyond something you enter the realm of nothing.

  49. danny burton

    why isn’t number, +1, the fundamental building block of the universe?


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