Marcus Chown is a science writer and cosmology consultant of “New Scientist. His latest books are Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and Felicity Frobisher and the Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil, of which “The Sunday Times” said: “One of the books most likely to fire children’s imaginations.”
Ultimately, science is about origins - where the human race came from, where the Earth came from, where the Universe came from. When you put it in those terms, most people you find waiting for a number 28 bus are interested. It’s an incredible privilege to be alive today. For the first time in history, we have a realistic idea of the extent and content of the Universe - we can see to the “edge” with our biggest telescopes and we can count up the Universe’s constituents, 10 billion or so galaxies like our own Milky Way. And not only do we know the extent and content of the Universe but we also have a pretty good idea where it all came from. It burst into being in a titanic fireball called the big bang about 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding and cooling ever since, with the galaxies congealing out of the glowing debris.
Previous generations would have killed to have this picture. And what makes it even more exciting is that we are now in a position to ask truly fundamental questions - What was the big bang? What drove it? What happened before? And, most fundamental of all, Why is there something rather than nothing? - and have a realistic chance of answering such questions within the next decade or so.