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The Evolution of the Universe


THE discovery of the red shift in the spectra of distant stellar galaxies revealed the important fact that our universe is in the state of uniform expansion, and raised an interesting question as to whether the present features of the universe could be understood as the result of its evolutionary development, which must have started a few thousand million years ago from a homogeneous state of extremely high density and temperature. We conclude first of all that the relative abundances of various atomic species (which were found to be essentially the same all over the observed region of the universe) must represent the most ancient archæological document pertaining to the history of the universe. These abundances must have been established during the earliest stages of expansion when the temperature of the primordial matter was still sufficiently high to permit nuclear transformations to run through the entire range of chemical elements. It is also interesting to notice that the observed relative amounts of natural radioactive elements suggest that their nuclei must have been formed (presumably along with all other stable nuclei) rather soon after the beginning of the universal expansion. In fact, we notice that natural radioactive isotopes with the decay periods of many thousand million years (such as uranium-238, thorium-232 and samarium-148) are comparatively abundant, whereas those with decay periods measuring only several hundred million years are extremely rare (as uranium-235 and potassium-40). If, using the known decay periods and natural abundances of these isotopes, we try to calculate the date when they have been about as abundant as the corresponding isotopes of longer life, we find that it must have been a few thousand million years ago, in general agreement with the astronomically determined age of the universe.

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GAMOW, G. The Evolution of the Universe. Nature 162, 680–682 (1948).

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