The Big Bang for Children (Synopsis)

“To begin, begin.” –William Wordsworth

Is the Big Bang the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century? I — along with many others — would argue that it is. It’s something that even young children are curious about!

Image credit: David Burstein, of http://www.davidburstein.net/2012/10/07/quiver-trees/.

Image credit: David Burstein, of http://www.davidburstein.net/2012/10/07/quiver-trees/.

Perhaps it’s in our nature to wonder about where we come from? Yet despite the fact that it’s been half a century since the Big Bang was validated and its alternatives shown to be wrong, it remains a very difficult concept for most people to understand. More importantly, I have yet to see a good explanation for children, who ought to be learning the scientific story of where we come from as soon as they’re old enough to ask.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI), via http://sci.esa.int/hubble/42355-cosmic-epochs/.

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI), via http://sci.esa.int/hubble/42355-cosmic-epochs/.

So let’s give them one. Have a look at The Big Bang for Children!

Comments

  1. #1 FredO
    December 17, 2014

    The Big Bang decisively refutes the philosophical notion of materialism, the idea that material reality is ALL of reality. Clearly time, space, matter and energy were all created at the time of the Big Bang, so there had to be a state of affairs when none of these existed.

    The nature of that reality is open to question, but THAT it existed or exists is beyond dispute.

  2. #2 Mike Gibbons
    CT
    December 17, 2014

    Hi Ethan I enjoy pretty much everything you write (especially about inflation, dark matter and dark energy) however we have a nine year old who asked me about the Big Bang just last week so thank you!! I hope Medium is working out as I miss reading all your ScienceBlogs commentators

  3. #3 Zed
    OR
    December 19, 2014

    Hmm, not sure how satisfying I find this metaphor. I think it introduces strange notions of agency and raises more questions than it answers. Why did the whole universe decide to run a race? Who organized it and fired the starting gun? When does it end? Do you get a prize if you finish?

    Admittedly, my kid is seven so maybe more literal than your target audience. He asked about the Big Bang the other day and I muddled through a not very satisfying answer. The things that are hard to explain to a kid are the things that are hard for everyone — what was there before? what precipitated it? infinite density in one tiny point creating all matter today, really? — but this weirdness is really interesting to kids and sparks a lot of questions.

  4. #4 ck trottrr
    fort worth
    December 19, 2014

    In the beginning, God….

  5. #5 Wow
    December 19, 2014

    In the beginning, God….

    No, in the beginning, we made up god because we didn’t have any better explanation.

    Some of us still have that problem…

  6. #6 Guy
    December 20, 2014

    Man wants to play god so he can avoid guilt/feel justified…it’s called idolatry, no matter what people try and disguise it as…

  7. #7 Wow
    December 20, 2014

    Nope, people make up god to explain how their whims are justified.

    Look at ISIS for the most recent example.

  8. #8 Don Fox
    Vancouver, Canada
    December 20, 2014

    To aviod yet another set of lies to chidren, check out the book “Endless Universe” by Steinhardt and Turok, Eho are Cadian scientists working at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada. The choice between the Big Bang and a cyclic universe is not yet clear.

  9. #9 Don Fox
    December 20, 2014

    Eho = they; Cadian = Canadian.

  10. #10 Don Fox
    December 20, 2014

    I tend to submit comments in threes. 😉

  11. #11 Bruno
    Thailand
    December 24, 2014

    I have an hypothesis regarding the Big Bang I would like to share.

    It starts with the universe being infinite in size.
    This seems to be contradictory with the hypothesis of a Big Bang or, rather, an instantaneous Big Bang.
    If the Big Bang was similar to a gigantic explosion, then it released a gigantic, yet finite, amount of energy.
    First question: how could an infinite universe be built with a finite amount of energy?
    Then, after a fraction of a second, the newborn universe had the size of a ball, meaning it was finite in size.
    Second question: how could a finite object become infinite?
    This leads me to think, probably wrongly, that the Big Bang could not have been an instantaneous event, but rather a continuous one, that would still be going on, albeit in a much quieter fashion.
    I would compare this ongoing Big Bang to an oil well.
    At first, when the oil kept under pressure is released, it gushes like a geyser, then once the pressure lower, the oil keeps on reaching the surface, but much more quietly.
    Thus, today energy would still be released, perhaps under the form of this so-called dark energy, that would enable the universe to expand and grow in size infinitely.
    In order to get an infinite universe, in size, one would need an infinite Big Bang, in time…

    Bruno

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