WMAP SCIENCE TEAM, NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY WMAP SCIENCE TEAM, NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Universe time line. Computer artwork showing the universe's evolution from the Big Bang (left) to the present day (right). As the universe cooled immediately after the Big Bang atomic nuclei began to form. After 300,000 years these nuclei combined with electrons to form atoms (mainly hydrogen). Within a million years dense regions of atoms attracted nearby matter, forming gas clouds and, after about 400 million years, stars and then small galaxies. Gradually the galaxy formation rate decreased and the small galaxies merged into larger galaxies. The solar system came into existence after about 9 billion years. It is presently 13.7 billion years after the Big Bang. At right is the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), which has been used to record background microwave radiation from the beginning of the universe.
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