The ancient world had numerous theories which viewed the Earth as the only planet in the universe, or the central planet in the universe. In (approximately) 1200 BC Mesopotamia, the recognised ‘creation story’ was the Enuma Elish, in which the universe takes the form of an earth sitting in the middle of a cosmic ocean. The story (paraphrased) goes like this: Originally, Apsu (Ground water) and Ti’amat (salt water) coexisted. They gave birth to a wide range of Gods. Eventually, Ti’amat is killed by her son Marduk. Her body is split in two; half becoming the Earth and the other half becoming the heavens. At this point, the Gods, sick of all the trouble it’s causing them, no longer wish to take care of the Earth. Marduk says; “I will form... man, let him be burdened with the toil of the gods.” For many Ancient civilisations it was difficult to imagine another world beyond the mythical one people believed they would travel to after death.


Around a thousand years later in 384-322BC, Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote The Physics. In this he discussed a model of the universe which accepts the existence of other planets, stars and moons, but claims that they revolve around the Earth in fixed, concentric circles. For those still miffed about Pluto’s lost planet-status, just think that in this model, only five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) existed. Furthermore, these planets were not for exploration. They were an unchanging, perfect part of the Heavens.


The idea of a universe which revolves around the sun appeared for the first (known) time between 310 and 230BC. Greek Astronomer, Aristarchus of Samos, also suggested (correctly!) that the stars were other suns, just further away from the earth. Between the 5th and 11th centuries, several astronomers proposed similar ideas. In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his model which caused the Copernican Revolution, a scientific shift towards the more general belief that the earth rotates around the sun.


Hindu cosmology, dating from around the 8th century BC, suggests that the universe goes through cycles, being repeatedly destroyed and recreated every 8.64 billion years. According to this theory we are in the final cycle; around 432,000 years from now time itself will end…


And then restart. Whether or not the universe has an end (both in terms of how long it will survive and its physical size), has been debated throughout history. A sixteenth century monk, Giordano Bruno suggested that because God has limitless power, the universe itself must be limitless. Olber’s 1823 paradox stated that the idea of an infinite and everlasting universe conflicts with the fact that the night sky is dark. He argued that if there are an infinite number of stars then it should always be bright outside, no matter whether it is day or night. This is as a result of distant stars being less visible but more numerous. Famous for his dark poetry, Edgar Allen Poe resolved the paradox by suggesting that the observable size of the universe (the amount that we can see) can be finite, without necessarily meaning that the universe itself is.


From the 1900s onwards, many important theories of the universe that we still abide by today developed, for example, Albert Einstein’s 1905 Special Relativity Theory. This proposed that time is relative to where you are in space - for example, as you read this the earth is travelling at great speed around the sun, but you are unaffected because you’re travelling at the same speed. This also explains why astronauts who stay on a space station for long enough will age at a slower rate than people on earth (but only by a few milliseconds), as the space station would be travelling at a greater speed relative to the earth.


Perhaps one of the most well known theories, The Big Bang Theory is the currently accepted theory behind the creation of the universe. It suggests that around 13.7 million years ago all of the universe’s matter was collected into one point, which quickly grew outwards following a large explosion. But of course, many other theories of the universe exist and will exist, as new data, such as that found in Unfold, is uncovered...

 

So you've just read some theories as to how the universe was born - but what about stars? Kurokawa's Unfold will showcase how those beautiful balls of gas are born - show your support for this project by donating to our Kickstarter campaign.