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Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 17 2014 4:50 PM

Inflated Timescales

When I wrote the article this morning about the new evidence for cosmic inflation, I was in a hurry because it was breaking news. The post was getting pretty long, and I had to leave something out that I think is quite astonishing.

Also? It will destroy your brain.

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Consider: When the Universe underwent inflation, it was a mere 10-35 seconds old. That’s an incredibly short time by human terms, too small for us to really grasp well. And it only lasted until 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang.

That duration is so short that analogies are difficult to use. That time period compared to one second is far, far smaller than one second is compared to the current age of the Universe.

But that’s in human terms. Compared to the age of the cosmos back then, inflation lasted for more than 1,000 times the amount of time the Universe had already existed.

Scaling that to current terms, if something like inflation started now, it would have to last for tens of trillions of years to be comparable in length. We think of the Universe as old, but it is as fleeting as the single wing beat of a mosquito compared to that.

By our scale, inflation lasted an immeasurably shorter time than the blink of an eye. But to the Universe itself at the time, it lasted flippin’ forever.

So you just go ahead and chew that over for a while. Take your time. We have plenty of it.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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