01x05 - The Big Bang: Before the Dawn

Episode transcripts for the TV show "Universe". Aired: October 27,2021 - December 1, 2021.*
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Epic moments that changed the universe forever.
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01x05 - The Big Bang: Before the Dawn

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BRIAN COX: Our universe is an enigma,

an endless, inexhaustible paradox.

It's largely...

a dark, cold, and lifeless ocean.

But within this ocean,

there are islands...

blazing with light.

Galaxies, trillions of them,

each one,
home to hundreds of billions of stars,

and around many of these stars,

there are planets,

alien worlds,

each incomprehensibly strange.

There are trillions
ofplanets in our universe

and one of them

nurtured beings capable of
contemplating this cosmic drama,

miraculously improbable,

brief candles flickering
against the eternal night.

As darkness begins to fall,

ifyou know that
all those points of light

that appear one by one
in the darkening sky are distant suns,

then it's impossible
not to be overwhelmed

at the sheer scale
and majesty of it all.

The universe
is infinite in all directions,

and terrifying in all directions.

But ifyou can overcome your fear,
then questions arise.

And surely the most
profound question of all is,

"How did all this come to be here?"

(CHUCKLES) That's a question
that's defined much of human history.

But it's only in the last century or so

that we've had the intellectual
and technical tools

to interrogate nature directly
in search of an answer.

And we've found
that it looks, for all the world,

like there was a first moment in time,

a beginning to the universe
. billion years ago, the Big Bang.


For all the world, but not quite,

because we've g*n to suspect
that there's more to it,

and we've embarked on
a heroic quest to search for

and to explore the time before the dawn.

everything quite clearly. The light...

It has a stark beauty all its own.


♪ See me when I float like a dove

♪ Skies above...

BUZZ ALDRIN: Magnificent desolation.

- Beautiful view.
- ARMSTRONG: Isn't that something?

♪ Take me away ♪

For all the people back on Earth,

the crew of Apollo

has a message that
we would like to send to you.

In the beginning, God created
the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form and void,

and darkness was
upon the face of the deep.

And God said, "Let there be light",

and there was light.

And God saw the light that it was good.

COX: Since we first became
conscious of ourselves,

we've looked to the heavens,
to those mysterious lights...

searching for answers.

What is the universe?

How did it come to be?

And what is our place in the cosmos?

(DISTANT expl*si*n)

COX: We sometimes doubt

the creation stories
that our ancestors told.

But those ancient myths
conceal a profound truth.

The clues to the origins of everything
can be found out there...

in light which ripples to us
from beyond the stars.

If we're going to dare to know
about the origin of the universe,

then we have to have some evidence.

And the connection we have
with the deep past is light.

See, light travels very slowly
on the universal scale,

only , miles a second.

It takes light eight minutes
tojourney from the sun to the earth.

It takes four years for light
to journey from the next nearest star.

And that means we see that star
as it was four years in the past.

So, the further out
into the universe we look,

the further back in time we look.

And because we can look
way out into the distant universe,

we can look back towards
the beginning of time.

- MAN : (OVER RADIO) Go ahead, Charlie.
- (BEEP)

we have a go for release,

and we're gonna be a minute late.

- Okay, Charlie.

COX: In the quest to find the origin
of the universe,

we need a time machine.

MAN : (OVER RADIO) This is Discovery.


- (BEEP)
- MAN : (OVER RADIO) We concur, Charlie.

COX: A telescope so powerful,

that can peer out
so far into the universe,

that it can capture
the most ancient light...

The telescope's released.

COX:...and carry us back...

towards the dawn of time.

- MAN : (OVER RADIO) Okay, Charlie.

COX: The Hubble Space Telescope

has taken us on
an odyssey through the universe,

revealing its gods...

and monsters.

Our universe is a place of beauty...

and terror.

Hubble has shown us
visions of sublime creation...

and images of awesome destruction,

illuminating ourjourney
backwards in time...

towards the dawn.

The Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery,

clouds ofgas nurturing newborn stars
in the Milky Way.

An image brought to us by light
that left the nebula , years ago.

The Pillars of Creation,

towering, delicate structures,
light years tall,

, years ago.

The Andromeda galaxy,

a glittering island of a trillion suns,

. million years ago.

A cosmic rose,
galaxies colliding in a celestial dance,

million years ago.

But Hubble's voyage
has taken us even further out

into the uncharted ocean of space,

ever deeper into the darkness,

glimpsing countless ancient
and faraway galaxies.

Wild, and primitive shoals of stars,

lighting the way
to their primordial past,

until, finally, Hubble approached
the farthest shore,

a galaxy near the dawn of time.

This is a galaxy called GN-z ,

and it is one of the most
distant galaxies we've ever seen.

This is light from some
of the first stars in the universe.

It began its journey only
million years after the Big Bang,

and it's taken . billion years
to reach us.

When you think about that, this light
journeyed through the universe,

and after nine billion years
of its journey, the earth formed.

And then, during the whole history
of our planet,

it completed the last third of
its journey and entered our telescopes.

So, this is an image
from the edge of time.

GN-z was one
of the very first galaxies,

formed at a time when the universe
itself was taking shape,

shortly after the Big Bang.

GN-z was a strange galaxy
by today's standards.

Twenty-five times
smaller than the Milky Way,

but filled with enormous, violent stars.

Lurking alongside these volatile giants,

there were other things,

delicate objects struggling
in the maelstrom,

some of the first planets
in the universe.

These were strange, primordial worlds,

and over the horizon
of one of them, a sun rose,

marking a new chapter
in the history of the universe,

the beginnings of a relationship
between stars and planets...

that would, billions ofyears later,

on a faraway world,

lead to the origin of life.

Now, we don't know when or where
the first dawn broke in the universe.

But what we do know is that
the first dawn was not the first moment.

The stars and planets
had to come from somewhere.

So, the first dawn was
preceded by long, dark night.

Astronomers call this era
the cosmic dark ages.

If we continue tojourney back in time,

we'd see shadows
fall across the universe.

The galaxies would disappear.

The first primitive stars
would be extinguished...

one by one...

and darkness truly would
be upon the face of the deep.

Here in the impenetrable gloom
of the cosmic dark ages,

our quest to understand
the origins of the universe...

would seem to end.

So, how can we peer
into the cosmic dark ages

to explore the origin of the universe?

Well, perhaps counter-intuitively,

the light from the stars
can still guide us

because that starlight has been
travelling across the universe

for millions or even billions
of years to reach us,

and information about the way
the universe has changed and evolved

becomes imprinted in that starlight.

The stars have illuminated
our voyage through time.

But their light can't guide us
directly across the dark ages.

Instead, their light can be used
to build maps of the universe

in space and time...

that allow us to navigate...

towards the moment of creation.

(DISTANT expl*si*n)

COX: And the most valuable light of all

comes from very particular stars in
the spectacular swansong of their lives.

Stars exist
in a permanent state of conflict

because the force of gravity
is relentless.

Left to its own devices, it will crush
anything and everything without limit.

But fortunately,
other forces come into play.

As a star collapses, its core heats up

and turns into
a giant nuclear fusion reactor.

Hydrogen is converted into helium
that releases energy

which creates a pressure
which holds the star up.

But stars like our sun
burn hundreds of millions

of tons of hydrogen
into helium every second.

And although they are big,
they're not infinite in size.

Stars, just like human beings,
have a lifetime.

They are subject
to the relentless march of time.

And for stars like our sun,
the collapse continues

until it produces a new
and exotic type of star

known as a white dwarf.

White dwarfs are strange beasts,

the fading remains of stars,

super dense, planetary-sized cores,

usually composed entirely
of carbon and oxygen.

Stars that were once a million times
the size of our planet,

crushed to the size of the earth,

subjecting the carbon
to extreme pressures,

and making white dwarfs,
in effect, stellar diamonds.

These diamond stars
are critically balanced,

able to resist the relentless
inwards pull ofgravity.

But onlyjust.

And that can make them
ticking time b*mb.

In , Hubble was in orbit.

The telescope focused
on a galaxy far, far away,

hunting for a distant white dwarf

that we knew was coming to the end
of its extraordinary life.

For millions ofyears,
the white dwarf had remained hidden,

locked in orbit around
a much biggest star,

a red giant.

As they circled each other,

the white dwarf's gravity drew in
gas and plasma from the red giant.

The mass of the white dwarf increased...

until it approached a critical limit...

known as the Chandrasekhar mass...

and surpassed it...

triggering a colossal
thermonuclear reaction.

The white dwarf detonated...

in a gigantic expl*si*n
called a supernova

that millions of light years away,

was detected by Hubble.

That white dwarf star,

or to be more precise, the supernova
that it became, has a name.

It's called SN gv.

And even though it is
million light years away,

it is so bright
that we could make a movie on it.

I mean, imagine now, this is a star
the size of a planet

ending its life with a flash of light

that's as bright as five billion suns.

Now, although supernova like these
only shine for a few days,

they cast a profound light
out across the universe.

We've given a name to
the sorts of supernova Hubble saw.

They're called Type a supernovae

and they're common enough to allow us
to map the evolution of the universe.

Type a supernovae
really are nature's gift to us

because they all explode
in the same way.

That means that they all shine
with the same brightness.

And that means that if we see one
that's dimmer, it must be farther away.

And that allows us to measure

the distance to the galaxy
that contains the supernova.

And because they shine so bright,

we can see them
tens of billions of light years away.

That means that we can measure
the distance to galaxies

all the way out towards the edge
of the observable universe.

But there's other information
encoded in the light.

When we look at the light
from distant supernova explosions,

we see something very interesting,
and very surprising,

because the light
from every single supernova

that's not in our neighbourhood
is redder that it should be.

The further away the supernova,
the redder the light.

It's called a redshift.

Now, light has a wavelength,

and the longer the wavelength,
the redder the light.

So, the explanation is that,

during the time the light has been
travelling from the supernova to us,

space itself has been stretching,
and that stretched the light.

And that means that
the universe is expanding.

In our quest to find the origin
of the universe, this is a vital clue.

Because if the universe
is expanding today,

then, tomorrow,
everything will be farther apart.

And it follows that, yesterday,
everything was closer together.

So, if we want to understand
how it all began,

we have to wind back time

through billions ofyesterdays.

We have to go back to a time
before the earth and the sun,

to a time before the galaxies,

and all the while,
the universe is shrinking,

getting ever smaller,
denser, and hotter,

until we arrive at the most famous
moment in the history of the universe.

Our universe is a place
of infinite variety.

There are galaxies of exquisite beauty,

stars of stupendous power,

and planets...
countless brave new worlds.

Galaxies, stars, and planets

are the things that make
our universe remarkable.

They are the things that make it
more than a barren expanse.

How did a universe of light and life

emerge from the cataclysm
of the Big Bang?

Unfortunately, we don't know.

We don't even know
if the universe had a beginning.

But we do know a great deal
about how the universe evolved

from a very different state
a long time in the past.

We know that . billion years ago,

this space that I'm standing in now
and the space you're standing in now

and all the space out to the edge
of the observable universe

containing two trillion galaxies
was very hot and very dense,

and has been expanding ever since.

Now, that implies that way back,
everything was closer together,

everything was contained
in a very small speck.

But how small was that speck?

How did it come to be?

Well, we used to think
that the universe emerged in that state,

very hot and very dense
at the beginning of time,

and we used to call that the Big Bang.

But now, we strongly suspect
that the universe existed before that.

And in that sense, it is possible
to speak of a time before the Big Bang.

So, what was the universe like
before the Big Bang?

The first thing to say
is that it was very strange.

There was no matter.

All that existed was spacetime

and energy, an ocean of energy,

almost still, but gently rippling.

Before the Big Bang,

the universe was a cold,
alien, featureless place.

Picture it as a near still ocean
of energy filling the void.

Although it contained no structures,

that energy did have an effect
on space. It caused it to stretch.

Not the gentle expansion we see today,

but unimaginably violent expansion.

That expansion is known as inflation.

Think of a speck,
a tiny, insignificant patch of space,

insignificant, except that
many billions ofyears later,

this speck would have grown to
become our entire observable universe.

The speck expanded at a phenomenal rate,

an exponential expansion...

that lasted...

just a few billion, billion, billion,
billionths of a second.

Now, the speck continued to expand

until it was about
the size of this cave.

And then, inflation
drew rapidly to a close,

and all the energy in that ocean
that was driving the expansion

was dumped into space
and formed the ingredients

of everything
in our observable universe.

I mean, imagine that.
A space about this size

filled with enough energy
to form two trillion galaxies.

That's what we call the Big Bang.

So the Big Bang was not,

as we commonly imagine,
some kind of expl*si*n.

It was actually
a transformation of energy into matter.

And the fossilised remains
of these momentous events,

the memory of the rippling ocean
of energy that drove inflation

became imprinted into our universe.

In fact, these fossilised ripples
shaped our universe,

influencing where each galaxy
and star emerged,

each planet and moon.

But how do we know all this?

How do we know
that there was a Big Bang?

How do we know there were

ripples in an ocean of energy
before the Big Bang?

The answer is...


COX:... that we've seen them.


COX: Planck scanned the entire cosmos

looking for light.

Not light from galaxies or stars,

but light from the beginning of time.


This is a photograph
of the distant past.

It's the most ancient light
in the universe.

This is light that's travelled for
almost . billion years to reach us.

It's a photograph of the entire sky,

a celestial sphere, if you like,
every direction that we can look,

and it's been laid flat
so we can see it all.

It's called the cosmic microwave
background radiation,

and it's an almost featureless glow.

There were no stars
and no galaxies in this universe.

Now, you might ask the question,

"Well, if there were
no stars and there were no galaxies,

"then, where's the light coming from?"

The answer is, the light
is coming from the universe itself.

Because this is only a few hundred
thousand years after the Big Bang,

so, the universe was hot.

So, what you're seeing here
is the afterglow of the Big Bang.

The most revealing thing
about this picture is the detail,

the variation.

This pattern is one of

the most important discoveries
in all of human history

because it represents
one of the necessary steps

in the story of how we came to be here.

See, that still ocean of energy
that drove the rapid expansion

of space during inflation
could not be entirely still.

There had to be ripples in the ocean.

It's a consequence of the laws
of nature, as we understand them.

And those ripples in the ocean
were imprinted into our universe

through the Big Bang
that emerged as those areas

of slightly different density
in the young universe.

And then, as the universe
continued to expand and cool,

the regions that were
slightly denser collapsed

to form the first stars and galaxies.

So, without those ripples,
we would not exist.

But there's one more extraordinary thing
about these ripples.

And that's the fact
that we predicted them

before we knew they existed.

And then, we ventured into space
to test our theory.

Planck's observation of the afterglow
of the Big Bang is strong evidence

for our outlandish creation saga,

the story of the speck,
the ripples, and inflation.

These ripples, then,
are the seeds of our creation,

and we dared to guess that they exist

from our vantage point here,
on a small planet

. billion years
after the moment of creation.

And then, because we're scientists,
we decided to launch a spacecraft

out into space, and capture
the oldest light in the universe.

And we saw that our guess was correct.

We dared to imagine
a time before the dawn,

and we proved that
our creation story is not a myth.

So, here is the creation story
as told by science.

In the beginning,
there was an ocean of energy

that drove a rapid expansion
of space known as inflation.

There were ripples in the ocean.

As inflation ended, the ocean of energy
was converted into matter,

then the Big Bang.

And the pattern of the ripples
was imprinted into our universe...

as regions of slightly different density

in the hydrogen and helium gas
that formed shortly after the Big Bang.

The denser regions ofgas collapsed...

(DISTANT expl*si*n)

...to form the first stars...

and the first galaxies.

And nine billion years later,

a new star formed in the Milky Way...

the sun.

The star wasjoined by eight planets...

including Earth.

And nearly . billion years
after it all began,

we emerged...

blinking into the light.

"To see the earth as it truly is,

"small and blue and beautiful
in that eternal silence where it floats,

"is to see ourselves
as riders on the earth together,

"brothers on that bright loveliness
in the eternal cold,

"brothers who know now
they are truly brothers."

COX: We all have moments of wonder.

We all dream.

Our thoughts float free,
soaring across the earth

and out into a canopy of stars.

In our most reflective moments,
I think we all understand that

small, though we are,
we are connected to the universe.

We are collections of simple atoms,

but atoms arranged remarkably,

with the urge to explore the universe,
and to comprehend it,

and celebrate our own place
in this great cosmic saga.

And if we follow that saga back,
it takes us on a pilgrimage...

to a time before the dawn,

and to strange ripples that existed
in a universe before our own.

I think we all must wonder
about the meaning of it all.

What does it mean to be human?
Why do we exist?

Why does anything exist at all?

These do not sound
like scientific questions.

They sound like questions
for philosophy or theology, even.

But I think
they are scientific questions

because they're questions about nature,
they're questions about the universe

and the way to understand the universe
is to observe it.

And we've seen ripples in the most
ancient light in the universe,

laid down by events
that happened before the Big Bang.

We've seen billions of galaxies written
across the sky in a giant cosmic web.

And we've seen thousands of planets
orbiting around distant stars,

worlds beyond imagination.

Now, the lesson to me is clear.

We won't answer the deepest questions by
being introverted, by looking inwards.

We will answer them by lifting
our gaze above the horizon

and looking outwards
into the universe beyond the stars.

We used to look to the sky
and see only questions.

Now, we're beginning to see answers.

Hubble is a very special telescope.

It's kind of like
the celebrity telescope

and for a really good reason.

It was the first time that we were
able to launch such a powerful,

large optical telescope into space.

MASON: The earth's atmosphere
kind of blurs out lots of our images.

And so, by putting
the telescope in space,

we get these precise,
crystal clear images of our universe.

MAN: Three, two, one, and lift-off

of space shuttle Discovery
with the Hubble Space Telescope,

our window on the universe.

CAROLE HASWELL: The feeling that you get
when the space shuttle takes off,

there's just a sort of...
the sound and the vibrations,

it's just incredibly awe-inspiring.

MAN: All rocket boosters
have done theirjob.

- MAN : (OVER RADIO) Go ahead, Charlie.

we have a go for release,

and we're gonna be a minute late.

HASWELL: We were all sort of
sitting on the edge of our seats,

waiting for the very first images

where Hubble is showing us
what it can see in the universe,

and that turned into
an unexpectedly long wait.

NEWSREADER: Engineers have discovered

that the giant telescope
has a warped mirror,

which means the images
sent back to NASA are distorted.

HASWELL: We had this very, very
precisely engineered mirror,

but it had been very precisely
engineered to the wrong shape.

For the first three years in the life
of the Hubble, it wasn't producing

the wonderful images
that everyone had expected.

HASWELL: The solution
was the same solution

to the fact that, as a kid,
I couldn't read the blackboard.

The solution was basically
to fit the telescope

with corrective optics,
or something analogous to spectacles.

MAN: And we have a go
for main engine start.

Five, four, three, two, one,

and we have lift off,
lift off of the space shuttle

on an ambitious mission
to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

JEFF HOFFMAN: It's kind of amazing
that we have to be able

to position this optical equipment to
an accuracy of better than a millimetre,

something that we'd have trouble doing
even on the ground, in your bare hands.

MAN: (OVER RADIO) Firm handshake
with Mr Hubble's telescope.

- WOMAN: We copy that...

The Vice President and I
wanted to call you and congratulate you

on one of the most spectacular
space missions in our history.

ARCAND: And when Hubble opened
its eyes after they were corrected,

the views that we were able to get
from that telescope changed forever

the way we understood and visualised
the universe that we live in.


The pictures are remarkable.
The trouble with Hubble is over.

DAVID KAISER: It's really hard
to remember what it was like

before we had
the Hubble Space Telescope.

We've gotten so used to these
extraordinary photographs

of the near, of the far,
of the very, very far.

MASON: I think, any time I look at
a Hubble image,

my mind gets bl*wn a little bit.

I was the kid that had, like, printouts
of Hubble images in their locker.

Anybody, whether they have the heart
of an astronomer or soul of a poet,

they're going to find things
in the images from Hubble

that just appeal to them
from the point of pure wonder.

HASWELL: Hubble has
not only done the things

that people expected and hoped it would,

but it's actually done a lot of things

that nobody would have
dared to dream of.

KAISER: One of the biggest discoveries

that came from using
the Hubble Space Telescope

is that, not only is our universe
getting bigger,

it's not just expanding and stretching,
it's actually getting bigger faster.

We can well imagine that the universe
is going to continue to expand

and get so big that, eventually,
the galaxies willjust disappear.

They'll be so far away from us and
moving so rapidly that we have no hope

of seeing any light from them,
and that's a real possibility

for what could happen in the future.

KAISER: We still have these mysteries of

what's really driving
this new phase of accelerated expansion,

and we're building new tools
to try to refine those questions.

LARRY GLADNEY: The Hubble telescope
which was a marvel for its time

is really far behind
what we would design today.

It will be completely outclassed
by the next generation telescope,

theJames Webb Space Telescope,
which will see even deeper than Hubble.

HASWELL: And that will give us
unprecedented detailed views.

We can use it to see through
some of the very dense,

murky dust clouds and actually see
stars in the process of forming.

We also can use it to look further
and further back in time.

That's going to be a very, very exciting
story which is going to unfold,

I think, within
the next three or four years.

Hubble is still king
because it's still a big observatory

in comparison
to what we've had in space before.

Hubble is a unique instrument
for making discoveries that

no other telescope
could possibly have made.

I think, when you think
about an image of space,

when you think about space,
you think of a Hubble image.
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