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Space

Space
A starry sky (from NASA)

Most of the universe is just emptiness - there is nothing there at all. It's dark. That's space. But within the space there is a small amount of stuff. Most of the small amount of stuff in the universe is loose electrons. When the universe first got started, just after the Big Bang, about 14 billion years ago, there was this energy floating around space, loose. This energy is made of electrons and protons and neutrons, which are just tiny bits of energy, so small you can't see them, even with a powerful microscope. Sometimes these electrons and protons would bump into each other. Once in a while, when the electrons bumped into each other, they would stick together, so you would get little clumps of electrons.

When electrons got close to each other, they behaved a little differently from when they were all alone. After a while, the protons and neutrons began to together in the middle, and the electrons orbited around the outside of a clump. These more organized clumps are atoms. The first atoms were simple hydrogen atoms.

Little by little, some of these atoms began to clump together, accidentally, into bigger clumps. These clumps had gravity, and so other atoms were attracted to them, and stuck to them. The clumps got bigger. Soon they formed huge balls of atoms which turned into stars, and eventually those stars created more complicated atoms and molecules, which spun off into planets. The earliest stars are probably not much younger than the universe itself.

But even when there were stars and planets, they took up only a very small part of the universe. Most of the universe is still empty space, with nothing in it at all. And it's huge - about 13.7 billion light-years across.

Learn by Doing - a great interactive visualization of how big the universe is
Also check out this app from NASA

Further reading about space

Big Bang
Stars
Planets
Physics
Quatr.us


Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?