Published on July 10, 2016
The Universe is all of time and space and its contents. It includes planets, moons, minor planets, stars, galaxies, the contents of intergalactic space, and all matter and energy. The observable universe is about 28 billion parsecs (91 billion light-years) in diameter. The size of the entire Universe is unknown, but there are many hypotheses about the composition and evolution of the Universe.
The earliest scientific models of the Universe were developed by ancient Greek and Indian philosophers and were geocentric, placing the Earth at the center of the Universe. Over the centuries, more precise astronomical observations led Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) to develop the heliocentric model with the Sun at the center of the Solar System. In developing the law of universal gravitation, Sir Isaac Newton (NS: 1643–1727) built upon Copernicus’s work as well as observations by Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) and Johannes Kepler’s (1571–1630) laws of planetary motion. Further observational improvements led to the realization that our Solar System is located in the Milky Way Galaxy and is one of many solar systems and galaxies. It is assumed that galaxies are distributed uniformly and the same in all directions, meaning that the Universe has neither an edge nor a center. Discoveries in the early 20th century have suggested that the Universe had a beginning and that it is expanding at an increasing rate. The majority of mass in the Universe appears to exist in an unknown form called dark matter.
The Big Bang theory, the prevailing cosmological model describing the development of the Universe, states that space and time were created in the Big Bang and were given a fixed amount of energy and matter that becomes less dense as space expands. After the initial expansion, the Universe cooled, allowing the first subatomic particles to form and then simple atoms. Giant clouds later merged through gravity to form stars. Assuming that the standard model of the Big Bang theory is correct, the age of the Universe is measured to be 13.799±0.021 billion years.
There are many competing hypotheses about the ultimate fate of the Universe and about what, if anything, preceded the Big Bang, while other physicists and philosophers refuse to speculate, doubting that information about prior states will ever be accessible. Some physicists have suggested various multiverse hypotheses, in which the Universe might be one among many universes that likewise exist.