The history of our universe. Of life. Of how we got here. It's the greatest story never told in one sitting. Until now.
Everybody loves an origin story. I wanted to write the big one--our own--and I wanted to make it smaller and more accessible. Most especially, I wanted to write something that would foster childhood interest in science through storytelling. The result is From Nothing Until Now, a collection of three short-stories based on real science and history, and written in plain language. I hope you find them enjoyable.
In the beginning, there was nothing. There was no space. There was no time. There were no things. There was nothing. But nothing was not what it seemed.
From the outside, nothing looked like zero. But inside, it was one minus one. And two minus two. And everything minus everything! In the everything part of nothing, there were things with space. And time. And things. These things with things were universes. One of them was ours.
Our universe had lots of stuff. And almost no space. The stuff pushed in every direction. Space stretched in three dimensions. It stretched until there was lots of space. Then, it just kept stretching.
The new space was big. And filled with nothing. The stuff spread evenly into the nothing. The nothing spread unevenly into the stuff! Thin spots appeared and quickly became gaps. Clouds became clumps as gravity pulled. Stuff compressed into stars.
Inside the stars, gravity squeezed things so tight they gave off light. And heat. And turned into new things! Things that rocks are made of. Things that planets are made of. Things that we are made of. Everything we can see and touch is made of stuff that was made inside stars.
When they ran out of fuel, the biggest stars burst into spectacular clouds of stardust. Stardust filled with star-stuff. And now, planet-stuff. When it clouded and clumped, new smaller stars were born. Now, with systems of planets. Planets like ours.
Planets like the one ours smashed into! It was terrible. It was terrific. Whatever else it was, it was hot and it was clumpy. Two big clumps cooled. One became Earth. That's here, where we are now. And the other? It became our Moon. Together, they circled our star, the Sun.
When the dust settled, Earth was tilted. Half the year, the top and bottom halves got more sunlight than each other. This created seasons. Earth was also spinning, and the Sun appeared to rise and set. Day and night. The Moon circled the planet closely, drifting very gently outward.
Earth's gravity pulled at the Moon. It made the Moon stop spinning. The Moon's gravity pulled at Earth. It made the oceans bulge and the tides go in and out. But, these were not our tides. Or our oceans. Or our planet. Not yet. But one day they would be. Our planet. Our home. Earth.
One day on Earth, something curious happened. First, nothing was alive. Then, something was alive! The something was very tiny. It was very simple. But it could make copies of itself. The copies were not always perfect. Some were not as good. But some were better.
The copies that were better at making copies made more copies. The ones that were not, did not. New and different living things made new and different living things for more years than you have hairs on your head. More years than the hairs on a hundred hundred heads!
For a long time, life was tiny. Then, some tiny things teamed up. They started doing special jobs. Some collected food. Others turned it into energy and shared. Eons and ages passed. And life got bigger. And bigger!
And more complicated! Some of these living machines did things sometimes, not always. They were not automatic. They made choices, and making good choices helped them do better. They had purpose.
While goo ate sunlight, worms ate goo. Fish ate worms. Other fish ate fish. Some fish had little fish that were better at not being eaten. Some were a little faster. Some had better eyes. And some hid in the shallow water, where the Moon pulled the tide in and out.
The shallow water fish had their own little fish. Some could walk in the mud with their fins. These newer fish had little fish whose fins were not-quite-fins. After many generations, the children of the children of the children of the fish were no longer fish at all.
They had legs and not-quite-feet. They lived on land and breathed air. Some were like salamanders. Others were like lizards. Some looked a bit like dinosaurs! Others looked a little like hedgehogs or moles. Or shrews.
The little like-shrews were little and shrewd. Over eons, they got bigger and shrewder. Some, with not-quite-feet that were more-like-hands, climbed into the trees. These not-quite-shrews lived among the branches for ages. Then, one day, some of their descendants decided to climb down.
These no-longer-like-shrews walked on two legs. They used their hands as hands. And they were smart. But they were not human. That would take still more generations than hairs on your head. But those generations would pass. And one day, they would become us.
Our ancestors were weaker than the other animals. They were slower than the other animals. But they were smarter than the other animals. And they had hands. With thumbs!
They made tools. Tools for smashing. And tools for thinking. They got smarter. And smarter. And invented ideas. And language, a way to share ideas. A way to share information. They collected knowledge. They became us.
We learned how to make spears. And tools to throw them faster and farther. We learned to make fire. And build shelter. We spread out across the surface of the planet. We became the masters of the land.
Instead of searching for fruits and nuts and vegetables, we learned to grow our own. Instead of hunting, we learned how to keep and raise wild animals. With each generation we selected the best seeds and the best animals to shape the next generation.
We harnessed the evolution of cows and pigs and chickens and goats. And wheat and grapes and corn. We bred wolves into dogs who would protect our sheep. We raised horses and donkeys and camels to carry us farther than we could walk on our own.
We traded things with each other. And wondered about the Sun and the Moon. We built cities and roads. And wondered about earthquakes and storms. We built dams and bridges. And wondered about life.
Then, we discovered science! We learned how to learn things. How to forecast things. How to prove and disprove them. We learned about the Sun and the Moon. About earthquakes and storms. About life. And then we had all new questions, and wondered even more.
We built steam engines and looked to the sky. We built airplanes and looked to the Moon. We went to the Moon! Six times! Then, we looked beyond. We learned how to learn the secrets of our universe. I will share one with you now.
The secret of how we got here. A story that begins with nothing and leads to now. This story. But now is always moving. Tomorrow's will come soon. And there is so much left to discover.