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Word Count: 781
The universe begins with a cataclysm that generates space and time as well as all the matter and energy the universe will ever hold For an incomprehensibly small fraction of a second the universe is an infinitely dense hot fireball The prevailing theory describes a peculiar form of energy that can suddenly push out the fabric of space On a rare occasion a runaway process called Inflation can cause a vast expansion of space filled with this energy The inflationary expansion is stopped only when this energy is transformed into matter and energy as we know itAfter inflation one millionth of a second after the Big Bang the universe continues to expand but not nearly so quickly As it expands it becomes less dense and cools The most basic forces in nature become distinct first gravity then the strong force which holds nuclei of atoms together followed by the weak and electromagnetic forces By the first second the universe is made up of fundamental particles and energy quarks electrons photons neutrinos and less familiar types These particles smash together to form protons and neutronsProtons and neutrons come together to form the nuclei of simple elements hydrogen helium and lithium It will take another 300000 years for electrons to be captured into orbits around these nuclei to form stable atoms The first major era in the history of the universe is one in which most of the energy is in the form of radiation -- different wavelengths of light X rays radio waves and ultraviolet rays This energy is the remnant of the primordial fireball and as the universe expands the waves of radiation are stretched and diluted until today they make up the faint glow of microwaves which bathe the entire universe At this moment the energy in matter and the energy in radiation are equal But as the relentless expansion continues the waves of light are stretched to lower and lower energy while the
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