The big bang created the universe. What created the big bang?

BEFORE THE BIG BANG: THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE AND WHAT LIES BEYOND by Laura Mersini-Houghton, HarperCollins, 240 pages, $27.99

In the past century, astrophysicists have coalesced around the notion that our universe resulted from a big bang, when our prenatal universe was so small, hot, and compressed that matter and time effectively did not exist. The evidence of this has mostly come from calculating several known quantities of universal expansion, chiefly its speed and contents, and running the tape in reverse to arrive at the universe’s first minuscule fraction of a second.

In her book, Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond, quantum cosmologist Laura Mersini-Houghton focuses on the prequel to this galactic episode, pondering what happened beforehand that put our universe in the position to be banged open. There is no physical evidence for this era, so it’s a little like investigating a murder before the murder’s taken place. But this quandary is still possible to explore, at least in the field of theoretical physics.

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